Marieke Lucas Rijneveld: ‘For a long time I believed that Hogwarts actually existed’


The winner of the 2020 International Booker on struggling through Proust and being terrified of Roald Dahl’s Witches

The book I’m currently reading
A thick Norwegian novel, Johan Harstad’s Max, Mischa & the Tet-Offensive, which has been a big success in the Netherlands. It’s an immersive read about the friendship between two boys and everything that can happen in a life.

The book that changed my life
A semi-autobiographical novel called Return to Oegstgeest by Jan Wolkers. It was the first book I read after I left home aged 19 and I was impressed by its free use of language and the themes of sexuality, religion and nature.

My earliest reading memory
A children’s book called Tales of the Wicked Witch, by Hanna Kraan. Her books gave me a feeling of safety and I wanted to live in the woods with a lot of talking animals. I wrote my own Witches Newspaper, which I posted through my friends’ doors.

My reading guilty pleasure
I borrowed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the library and loved it so much that I typed the entire book out on my computer. I think this was how I learned to write. For a long time I believed that Hogwarts actually existed, that I could take lessons there.

The last book that made me cry
… in fear was Roald Dahl’s The Witches. I saw the film when I was nine or 10 and was afraid of the witches for weeks. Every woman I saw in that period, I thought looked suspicious.

The book I often give as a gift
Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It’s a truly stunning book. He’s a poet and you can see that in every sentence he writes. A young boy writes a letter to his illiterate mother and it’s about the Vietnamese war, the impact on the next generation, and about homosexuality and being different.

The book that changed my mind
A poet who changed my mind is Anna Enquist. I was very young when I read this Dutch poet and psychoanalyst who lost her daughter in a traffic accident. For the first time I understood how mourning and sorrow worked and how they could be expressed, not in the Bible or in children’s books, but in poems and she inspired me to write my own.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
So much is published. I’d love to embrace every book but it’s not possible. I haven’t read any Kafka and really should. I’m reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time at the moment, but finding it very slow going. I’m struggling but will persist because it is such an achievement.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and translator Michele Hutchison won the International Booker prize for The Discomfort of Evening (Faber).


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