Sunday, 4 March 2018

Craving by Esther Gerritsen

Craving by Esther Gerritsen
First published in the Netherlands in Dutch as Dorst by De Geus BV in 2012. English language translation by Michele Hutchison published in the UK by World Editions International in January 2015.

One of my 2018 Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge reads
One of my WorldReads from the Netherlands

Where to buy this book:

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The relationship between Coco and her mother Elisabeth is uneasy, to say the least. Running into each other by chance, Elisabeth casually tells Coco that she is terminally ill. When Coco moves in with her mother in order to take care of her, aspects of their troubled relationship come to the fore once again. Elisabeth tries her best to conform to the image of a caring mother, but struggles to deal with Coco's erratic behaviour and unpredictable moods.

Craving is an unusual novel of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. Daughter Coco mostly grew up with her father and stepmother so the connection we would expect her to have with her birth mother, Elisabeth, isn't there. However it turns out that there may be other reasons for the pair's alienation as well. From the very beginning of this book, I loved the awkward, stilted conversations between Coco and Elisabeth.  Brilliantly written (and translated), their discomfort with each other is painfully obvious.

Elisabeth is a fascinating woman to me. Like myself, she isn't strongly maternal yet, unlike me, she did have a child. Through this novel we see her own thoughts about this and the opinions of outsiders - stepmother Miriam especially - of Elisabeth's behaviour. Practical and pragmatic but rarely emotional, Elisabeth struggles to present herself as she has learnt others expect to be. It is only in her framing shop workplace she can comfortably be herself so I felt strongly for her when her terminal illness took even this respite away.

Coco uses her mother's illness initially as a way to resolve her own temporary lack of a home. She will move in and take care of Elisabeth, imagining as she takes this decision how everyone else will applaud her self-sacrifice. It isn't such a convenient solution though and, of the two women, Coco seems the less able to cope.

I enjoyed reading and empathised with much of Craving although its bringing back memories of my own mother's terminal illness meant certain scenes were much closer to home than they might be for another reader. This is a shorter book than I felt it could have been so at times I wanted to spend longer and look more deeply into Coco and Elisabeth's lives than I was allowed to do. It is certainly a worthwhile read and important in its portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship that is so removed from the fiction norms.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Esther Gerritsen / Contemporary fiction / Books from the Netherlands


  1. I havne't heard of this before, but it sounds really good. I tend to enjoy books featuring mother-daughter relationships, and the relationship here seems interesting. I'm curious about the stilted conversations now. That's too bad about the length, though.

    1. I didn't know of it either until I was offered a copy. Dutch authored books in English translation aren't easy to find!