Review: Mona In Three Acts - Griet Op de Beeck
Bijgewerkt op: 14 jul. 2019
Genre: Literary Fiction
Originally published: September 2014 by Prometheus To be published in translation: November 2019 by AmazonCrossing My Rating: 3/5 stars
Mona in Three Acts is the first novel by well-known Flemish author Griet Op de Beeck to be translated into English, and the first one I read both in translation, as well as in its original Dutch. Many thanks to the publisher AmazonCrossing for providing me with an early copy of the former.
As with most of Griet Op de Beecks books, Mona in Three Acts is a literary contemporary novel, that centres around coming of age in a slightly dysfunctional family-unit. As the title would imply, we follow Mona in a story that is split into 3 parts with a substantial time jump in between each of them. In part 1, we get to know her as a 9-year old, shortly after the death of her mother, coping with the fact that her father is getting remarried. We see her navigate her way around all these new emotions and see her relationship with her stepmother and stepsiblings play out. In part 2, her story continues when Mona is around 25 when she moves in with her boyfriend and faces the first struggles in her starting career. In part 3, Mona returns home to take care of her father on his sickbed and many puzzle pieces of the last years begin to fall into place.
I have to commend the novel for its consistency- and build up of characters. We see how the way that Mona was brought up influences the way she forms relationships later in life, which makes up the central theme of the novel. Not just Mona, but the other reappearing characters follow this line. All of them have distinct personalities and all of them are just the right amount of flawed to be realistic, but not too unlikable. That being said, the nature of this novels theme almost directly prevents character growth in the main character. Op de Beeck does an exceptional job at writing from a childs perspective, which is why I probably enjoyed part 1 the most. Unfortunately, Mona retains that naïve childish outlook throughout the rest of the novel, which got on my nerves quite fast. My second problem, which is also inherently linked to the theme this novel goes for, is that everything is so oversimplified. Yes, people are creatures of habit, that have a tendency to stick to the same patterns. Yet the way the author psychoanalyses her character down to a single thing in her past just rubs me the wrong way. As a literary device, it treads the thin line between “character background” and “psychology for dummies”. As an outlook on life, it completely removes all agency from the person and labels them as a victim of their past, rather than an individual capable of taking responsibility for their own life.
As a final note I’d like to say that I actually enjoyed the English translation more than I did the original. Op de Beeck has a tendency to try a little too hard when writing dialogue, which results in overly-directed, “too profound” sentences that feel out of place in the mouths of the characters that deliver them. I think the translator did an excellent job of bending them into a more moderate form, without losing the core of the message.
This novel is out in Dutch under the original title “Kom hier dat ik u kus” by Prometheus, and will be released in November 2019 via AmazonCrossing in it’s English translation.