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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Christ's Entry into Brussels

Dimitri Verhulst

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To purchase Christ's Entry into Brussels

Title: Christ's Entry into Brussels
Author: Dimitri Verhulst
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 140 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Christ's Entry into Brussels - US
Christ's Entry into Brussels - UK
Christ's Entry into Brussels - Canada
Christ's Entry into Brussels - India
L'Entrée du Christ à Bruxelles - France
  • Dutch title: De intrede van Christus in Brussel
  • Translated by David Colmer

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Our Assessment:

A- : holds up mirror to contemporary Belgium, very nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 28/2/2014 Jane Housham

  From the Reviews:
  • "Naturally, Brussels is the national focal point for Verhulst's native readers, but once the text is translated into English, the angle from which readers view it becomes more oblique, its blows more glancing. David Colmer, the highly regarded translator, has perhaps taken a deliberate decision not to smooth off the splintery knots of Verhulst's writing into something more English-sounding. This novel feels foreign and the writhing sentences suit this cynical, deeply disillusioned state-of-the-Belgian-nation rant." - Jane Housham, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Christ's Entry into Brussels is indeed about Jesus Christ's (expected) second coming -- to Brussels, of all places. Surfing on the Internet, the narrator and the rest of Belgium one day learn:

There it was, tucked away between an item about an attempt on the world hotdog-eating record and one listing the latest antics of a female pop singer. Christ was coming to Brussels on the twenty-first of July. Though anonymous, the sources were highly reliable and His coming was a definite fact. Further information would follow.
       It takes a while to sink in -- holy sightings, as the narrator notes, especially of the Virgin Mary, have after all been frequent in Belgium over the years -- but this is something different, and it settles into the national consciousness far more firmly. A mass delusion, perhaps, but one everyone is drawn into and happily becomes part of. (Well, except the Catholic Church -- as convinced as anybody, but with a whole lot more to fear, since they have guilty consciences, concerned that Christ won't look too kindly on their overenthusiastic sexual abuse-rampaging in his name over the years.)
       Three weeks before He's due, the masses begin setting up camp on Brussels' Place de Palais, and Christ-fever really catches on. Even the narrator, a worn-out child of the 1960s whose marriage has dulled, finds himself caught up in the spirit of things -- like everyone else. Soon even the neighbor whom he's barely exchanged a word with is inviting him and his wife over for dinner and baring his soul (revealing rather disturbingly more than they probably want to know).
       The government authorities get in on the act too, and among their major concerns: finding someone who can translate for His Ultra-Holiness. A Latin speaker won't do, of course, they need someone who speaks Aramaic -- and so they fish out eleven-year-old Ohanna from the Transit 'Centre' where the unwanted would-be refugees are kept, figuring her language-skills are as close to that practically dead language as any they're likely to find. She and her family are moved to the presidential suite of a fancy hotel, and when the day comes to welcome Christ she's up on stage right beside the King himself.
       It's no coincidence that the day of Christ's arrival is the very day: "marking the celebration of our nationhood on the calendar", the Belgian National Day that's always a public holiday anyway (but this year promises to be something really special). Verhulst clearly chose it to hammer home the point: this is a story holding up a mirror to the unsightly Belgian nation.
       Verhulst's narrator strikes the right tone throughout. He's a cheerful and at times lightly dazed commentator who doesn't probe too hard and presents even the worst of Belgian society -- from the pederastic clergy and the awful colonial legacy to the more mundane indifferences of the contemporary everyday -- with a genial touch.
       The promise of Christ's coming upends attitudes throughout contemporary Belgium -- which shines an even stronger light on the dark underside of what the place usually is like. Verhulst casually describes the worst of Belgium -- and there's a lot of it -- and yet doesn't sound angry or bitter because it no longer matters: Christ is coming to town, and everything is okay now.
       Of course, there's a problem with that, one which neither the narrator nor the rest of mass-deluded Belgium are willing to consider .....
       Christ's Entry into Brussels is deceptively cheerful, with Verhulst pulling off the impressive feat of presenting a story that is about as deeply cynical as one can imagine yet barely relies on discomfiting black humor. His narrator is convincingly guileless -- but not a naïf. He buys into the Christ-is-coming story like everyone else because Belgium has become so debased that, basically, he has to: any possible way out of this deeply entrenched ugly reality is worth taking, and it takes something as absurd as the idea of Christ's return to rouse the populus -- a grasping at the straws of a decayed myth that once held promise but has gone the way of everything else in degenerate Belgium.
       One wonders whether Christ's Entry into Brussels reads differently in deeply secular Europe, where the idea of Christ's return can only be seen -- as would be the Greek-god-pantheon suddenly showing up -- as a fictional device than it does in, say, the American heartland, where a significant segment of society still actually seems to expect it (and infects even the unbelievers with their conviction, which lies in the air in a way it no longer can in a place like Belgium). Regardless, Christ's Entry into Brussels is a very good piece of work, and an excellent, spirited state-of-the-nation novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 January 2015

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Christ's Entry into Brussels: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Flemish author Dimitri Verhulst was born in 1972.

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© 2015 the complete review

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