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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Leon de Winter

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase VSV

Title: VSV
Author: Leon de Winter
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012
Length: 464 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Ein gutes Herz - Deutschland
  • of Daden van onbaatzuchtigheid
  • VSV has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : great premise and set-up, some decent thriller-excitement, but falls a bit flat

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 10/9/2013 Dirk Schümer
Die Welt . 12/9/2013 Hannes Stein

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Autor hat nicht mehr und nicht weniger unternommen, als die ganze vielstimmige Islam- und Zuwanderungsdebatte in einen durchaus trivialen Thriller zu verkleiden. Darin treten auf: prominente Politiker mit heruntergelassener Hose, Van Goghs fanatischer Mörder - und am Ende auch der gelinde lächerliche Romancier Leon de Winter selbst. Eine solche -- wirklich komplett fiktive ? -- Demaskierung nicht nur einer ganzen Gesellschaft, sondern auch des Autors selbst ist unerhört. (...) Und doch ist dieser aberwitzige Roman kein Thesenpapier zur Zuwanderungsdebatte geworden. Das liegt zum einen an einer messerscharfen Selbstironie" - Dirk Schümer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Kann das denn aber gelingen, dieses Ineinandermontieren von zwei Genres, die doch recht wenig miteinander zu tun haben -- auf der einen Seite der harte, schnelle Spannungsroman, auf der anderen Seite das ironische, luftige, literarische Spiel ? Es gelingt sogar sehr gut, und zwar deshalb, weil Leon de Winter in beiden Genres dieselbe Frage untersucht: Wie wird aus einem schlechten ein guter Mensch ?" - Hannes Stein, Die Welt

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:

       VSV is an extremely ambitious novel. First off, it begins with Mohamed Boujeri's 2004 assassination of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh -- but in VSV van Gogh enjoys a continued existence in the afterlife: he becomes a guardian-angel-in-training in a limbo world (since he managed to avoid getting sent straight to hell, or heaven). There he comes under the wing of a Jimmy Davis, who tells him that he can vaguely watch over someone still living -- and offers him three candidates to choose from: Ayaan Hirsi Ali (with whom he made the controversial film Submission), author (and longtime antagonist) Leon de Winter himself, or his murderer, Mohamed Boujeri. Van Gogh declines all three, so Jimmy sets him up with someone else: Max Kohn (not a real figure), a wealthy Dutch gangster who has been keeping his distance from the Netherlands, and who is only alive thanks to a heart transplant -- from Jimmy Davis.
       Real-life and fictional figures overlap here: de Winter is the sad sack author recently divorced from (real-life wife) Jessica Durlacher, whose tell-all will be out (at de Winter's expense) before he can get his side of the story out. (Fiction and real-life do diverge in the novel -- perhaps signaled to Dutch readers here also by having de Winter and Durlacher no longer being together, suggesting an alternate reality since in reality they apparently remain the same old happy and very prominent power-couple.) De Winter is involved with a new woman, Sonja -- the love of dead Jimmy's life, and the mother of Max Kohn's son, Nathan. Yes, the Max Kohn in whom Jimmy's heart now beats; more than a decade earlier he had been involved with Sonja, but she has been on the run from him ever since -- and never let him find out that he had a son.
       A man who did some dirty work for Max back in the day (including, apparently, offing Sonja's corrupt father) has been sitting in jail all this time; his son, Sallie Ouaziz, is now almost of age -- and, together with his soccer-team-buddies, has planned a big terrorist coup. They basically blow up the Amsterdam 'Stopera' (the National Opera house, which is conveniently near city hall), and then hijack an airliner. One of their demands is that Mohamed Boujeri be freed, which the Dutch government quickly gives in to. But they have additional plans, too.
       The title of the novel refers to the Vondel School Vereeniging -- the school where, of course, Nathan goes, and that locale too comes to play a role.
       If it all sounds a bit convoluted, it's fairly impressively woven together. De Winter shifts perspectives. moving to different threads from chapter to chapter until they all begin to come together. The gradually uncovered connections are a bit convenient, but it's still neat to see this complex web come together. De Winter has some fun with more real-life figures (including former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen), as well as in portraying himself as a hairy, over-weight, but good-natured guy. He's also very generous in his portrait of van Gogh (their longstanding enmity played out very much in public at the time) -- perhaps easier, given that he's dealing with a dead guy. Some of the perspectives are considerably less successful than others -- the scenes of ten-year-old brat Nathan, whose priority is attending a classmate's birthday, are often cringe-worthy -- but de Winter does mature adult reflection much better.
       As the subtitle -- 'acts of selflessness' -- suggests, VSV is in large part also about changes of heart (yes, yes, that literal one might be carrying things a bit far ...). Kohn, for one, is a changed man, and tries to set things right. Of course, circumstances make that very difficult.
       De Winter has a decent thriller plot here, and it works pretty well, much of the way. Not entirely however. The concluding excitement falls rather flat and feels very forced, and the need to involve the supernatural Theo van Gogh -- an otherwise interesting figure in the book -- ultimately lessens the impact and the lessons on offer here, too. With so much on his plate, de Winter's character-portraits prove very hit and miss, too; putting himself in the novel probably didn't help.
       VSV doesn't quite live up to its early promise and falls a bit short with the messages it tries to convey, but it has decent entertainment value.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 May 2014

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VSV: Reviews: Leon de Winter: Other books by Leon de Winter under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Leon de Winter was born in 1954.

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