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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Great Longing

Marcel Möring

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To purchase The Great Longing

Title: The Great Longing
Author: Marcel Möring
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992
Length: 205 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Great Longing - US
The Great Longing - UK
Le grand désir - France
Das große Verlangen - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: Het grote verlangen
  • Awarded the AKO Prize
  • Translated by Stacey Knecht

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Our Assessment:

B : story of longing and memory, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 20/12/1996 Lucy Atkins
The Washington Post . 23/7/1995 Jennifer Howard

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)tmospheric, though ultimately frustrating (...) Moering's lyrical prose suits his slippery subject-matter, but staged discussions occasionally jar the otherwise introverted atmosphere of the book." - Lucy Atkins, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       The Great Longing is narrated by Sam van Dijk, a young man whose parents were killed in a car accident in 1969, when he was twelve years old. Sam, his twin sister Lisa, and their brother Raph were then separated and put into foster care. Except for a brief telephone call from his brother, Sam has no contact with his siblings until he no longer needs a guardian. He is then reunited with his brother and begins the process of finding himself -- always haunted by a great longing.
       The locales of this novel are in the periphery and shadow worlds. The characters live in old buildings in deserted industrial areas or work deep in the countryside and backwoods. They are often physically isolated, with few friends and little human contact.
       The first year they are together Sam and Raph spend travelling through the Dutch hinterlands, finally winding up working in a potato starch plant. "Maybe Lombrosian types didn't exist," Sam says, "but there were sure a lot of people in those parts who came close." Returning to a more urban environment the extremes are no longer as obvious, but Sam still inhabits an odd and set apart world.
       Sam's longing is for his lost parents and the whole world that was shattered with their deaths. It is also a longing for love. Sam recalls how his sister succinctly put it: "Papa, Mama, God, the mystery of love. That, said my sister, was all gone."
       Memory is particularly elusive to Sam. His work involves indexing and archiving -- trying to recreate and understand a past, though he is doing it for others. It is Lisa that is the keeper of the past for the three sibling: "When it comes to our past, she's the authority." As the book progresses, Sam recalls more, finding the memories that had been hidden away, until the final piece of the puzzle falls into place, a cathartic realization that will perhaps allow Sam to move on with his life. The book closes with Sam wondering: quo vadis -- the last words of the book are: "where are we going ?"
       The focus on memory and longing is occasionally too ponderous, but Möring writes a fairly strong story around it. Sam's other contacts -- a lawyer, an employer, two women -- appear relatively briefly, and there is little interaction between them and Sam, but Möring manages to get a lot out of these meetings. The starkness of life is also neatly evoked -- this is a very different Holland than the one one usually imagines.
       The style is occasionally a bit uncertain, the story a bit too pat, but Möring does have some good flourishes. Worthwhile, if not exceptional.

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The Great Longing: Reviews: Marcel Möring: Other books by Marcel Möring under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Marcel Möring was born in 1957. He is the author of numerous novels, and has won the prestigious Dutch AKO Prize

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