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the Complete Review
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Hard Copy

Fien Veldman

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To purchase Hard Copy

Title: Hard Copy
Author: Fien Veldman
Genre: Novel
Written: 2023 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 243 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Hard Copy - US
Hard Copy - UK
Hard Copy - Canada
Xerox - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Dutch title: Xerox
  • Translated by Hester Velmans

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Our Assessment:

B : creative take on contemporary life and the workplace

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 28/3/2024 Paul Jandl
The Telegraph . 24/5/2024 Sophie Dickinson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Fien Veldman hat mit ihrem Roman Xerox ein grossartiges Spiegelkabinett geschaffen. Die Wirklichkeit scheint zerfallen in Phantasmagorien der Angst. Aber was, wenn diese horrorhafte Wirklichkeit gar keine Einbildung ist ? Es gehört zu den subtilen Tricks des Romans Xerox, dass er seine Geschichte an einem Ort alltagsgrundierter Langeweile ansiedelt: im Büro. (...) Mit Fien Veldman ist man an einem Kipppunkt der Gleichförmigkeit angelegt. Dahinter ist schon der Wahn. Oder ist das Büro der eigentliche Wahn ?" - Paul Jandl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "One would think that its bizarre premise might lead to a bizarre denouement; alas, the printer obsession is revealed immediately, and, instead of descending into farce, it reads as repetitive and pedestrian. (Like a printer, you might think.) The tone, intentionally naïve, becomes grating (.....) In a sense, Hard Copy makes its point too well: it’s about an unfulfilled life, a lonely one, one in which past injury is conjured but not reckoned with. As a short story, it might have been excellent." - Sophie Dickinson, The Telegraph

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:

       Titled Xerox in the original -- a ™ issue in the US/UK ? --, an office-printer does figure prominently in Hard Copy. The narrator of three of the novel's four parts is a nameless customer representative at a start-up that is puttering along, successful enough, apparently, but not much more ("can you still call something a start-up after seven years ?" she wonders).
       Some figures from her youth are remembered by name, but in the here and now she refers to everyone by description or position, even her 'best friend'; her fellow employees are referred to only as 'Marketing', 'Sales', 'the boss', and the like. When her (or someone else's, or the company's) name comes up in conversation, or when she tells her name to someone, she conceals it in her narration:

     'What's your name ?'
     '[my first name] [my last name].'
       She comes from the provinces, having grown up in relative poverty, and clearly feels she does not fit in, certainly not at the office but also just generally in life, nicely captured several times by Veldman as when, for example:
     The people in the park stroll past us. They're all doing the same thing, all wearing the same thing, all holding the same coffee cup, and I just don't understand how they all know how to follow the same rules. Does it get announced in the newspaper ? I don't have a subscription.
       Or, when the narrator reflects on her background and her very lowly minimum-wage job:
I'm ashamed of my family and ashamed of the accent I used to have. I don't think someone who knows the rules of tennis would ever be doing this job. I can't even imagine it.
       She is incapable of connecting with her co-workers, even when they try to engage her -- but even she comes to realize that: "Life is only interesting if you can share it with someone". Unable to reach out to anyone other than her best friend from childhood, at the office she turns to her printer, babbling to it -- something that had started out: "as spontaneous, the way you might talk to a baby or a dog, even if you know it can't answer you". The printer is noisy, so she actually has an office of her own, so she is able to babble a lot; it's this that also gets her suspended from her job, as her boss is led to believe she spends all her time on the telephone (and she is too meek to effectively defend herself, even though she notes: "I mean ... I never call anyone").
       The second part of the novel has her 'On Leave' -- away from the office, and away from her printer, leaving her even more at loose ends without her everyday routine and outlet. Veldman adds a few more layers to the story too: from the start, the narrator was in pursuit of a mis-addressed package; she finally finds it -- and takes it home with her -- but it's still quite a while before she actually opens it. She's also still haunted by some events from her youth -- something that was enough to lead her to flee her hometown:
     When I moved to this city, I thought I could start over, leave everything behind. After all, I had done everything right. I'd almost forgotten about it, in fact. Not really forgotten, that's impossible, but I'd pushed it so far away that it felt like forgetting.
       Her efforts to suppress it have not been successful; it keeps bubbling up in the novel, clearly still haunting her.
       While on leave, the narrator is sent to a career coach, but here too she isn't willing to speak freely -- so, for example: "I have more feelings for my printer than for anyone else, but I can't say that to my coach".
       The final part of the novel is titled 'Reintegration', and finds the narrator back at the office -- albeit not because she's resuming her job; the start-up decides the way to go is to outsource many of the functions, including hers; she's easily replaced. In between, however, we learn a bit more about the office and the narrator's fellow workers -- and the origins of the mystery package she was hunting down --, much of this from the printer, which is presented sentient and does the narrating of the third part, when it has been separated from her.
       Hard Copy is most successful when it sticks to being an office-novel and focuses on the present, both when the narrator is in the office and when she is on leave. The baggage of the events from her youth proves more of a distraction -- repeatedly dredged up, but only slowly filled out --, rather than adding more depth to the character. In publicity copy from the publisher, Veldman sums up: "Hard Copy is a novel about class differences in late capitalist life, and the longing for humanity in ourselves and the things around us", and she's mostly successful with this, but does make the class differences terribly stark -- the narrator's background sounds abysmal -- and does push a few too many elements into the story in trying to make her points about this.
       A nice touch is having the printer's perspective -- interesting, too, as it too is essentially passive and has to accept whatever happens around it, much like the (other) narrator. And some of the variety in the narrative -- a revealing leap ahead, at one point ("One day, about two years from now" ...), is neatly slipped in -- is well done -- as is the final scene, the narrator not fully able to embrace true human connection yet, but, with the help of the printer, perhaps slowly on the way there.
       Hard Copy is an engaging, creative take on modern life, a bit over-stuffed but much of it nicely conceived and executed. Veldman vacillates some between grittier realism and the more fancifully imagined -- and is more successful with the latter; it's all perhaps a bit over-thought, but a solid read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 June 2024

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Hard Copy: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Fien Veldman was born in 1990.

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© 2024 the complete review

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