Rolf Dorint is in serious trouble. His writing career has ground to a halt and he is struggling with writers block. His last publishable material has been delivered two years ago and his publisher is getting impatient. Trying to find inspiration in the bottle doesn't help either and puts a serious strain on the already stormy relationship with his wife Harriëtte. Rolf is desperately looking for a new story. Discarded manuscripts litter the shelves in this office and the feeling that there is a new story waiting to be written practically tortures him. If only he could get that first line written. When he does, the story he is about to embark on, will change his life forever.
Bron is clearly influenced by the work of Stephen King. From very early on in the novel it is clear that Raven is an admirer of his novels. A writer as the main character is something that shows up in King's novels frequently. The author has made the writing process central to the plot, supporting the plot with two central issues. The first is the question successful authors have been asked ad nauseam: where do you get your inspiration/ideas form? Rolf's source of inspiration has dried up and his attempt to get it flowing again turns from a quest of personal salvation to one that will decide the fate of worlds.
The second is the axiom that all characters in a novel are the writer. As with the wellspring of inspiration, Raven takes this quite literally, intertwining the writing of Dorint, in which he describes the adventures of his alter ego Baxan Kanter in a real metaphysically linked to our own world. As Dorint struggles to get Kanter's story written, it becomes clear that events in Kanter's world influence our own. It gets to the point where other people are dragged into the tale, with portions of the story being written by the neighbour's son Luuk.
Conceptually it is not a bad idea. It leans on King's Dark Tower considerably though. Besides the connection between the two worlds, there is Kanter, who is the Gunslinger on steroids basically. The novel includes a scene reminiscent of the challenge faced by Roland in the town of Tull, and the climax of the novel made me think of Roland's relationship with Jake as well. It's been a while since I read The Dark Tower series. There are probably more connections between the two works that I've missed.
Where Raven runs into trouble is the execution of these ideas really. In her way she is her own worst critic:
Apart from the rambling prose, Raven struggles with a character that is something of a caricature. The man barely shows emotion, intimidates everyone he meets and if that doesn't work, simply shoots the the person foolish enough to be uncooperative. The temptation to make yourself larger than life must be there for Dorint but Raven has made him portray Kanter in a way that makes him less than human. No emotion is not the same as, say, the iron self control and determination of the Gunslinger."Nee, serieus, Rolf, als je denkt hiermee weg te komen... Het is de natte droom van een meisje van dertien en een bijna volmaakte kopie van die, je weet wel, die van die serie boeken waarvan ik alleen het eerste deel van heb gelezen, die premiejager, scherpschutter of zoiets."
"No, seriously Rolf, if you think you can get away with this... It is the wet dream of a thirteen year old girl, and an almost perfect copy of that, you know, that guy from the series I only read the first book of, that bounty hunter, gunslinger, something like that."
Harriëtte's criticism of Dorint's writing - chapter 1
Besides being unnecessarily heavy on violence, I wasn't too impressed with Raven's prose either. It is uneven I guess. Most of it is fairly direct but once in a while Raven overreaches and uses vocabulary that doesn't fit (when is the last time you used 'inborst' (disposition) in a heated conversation?) or end up writing rambling sentences. She also relies quite heavily on rhetorical questions in some sections. My issues with Raven's style aren't helped by the impressive number of typos and other errors that have slipped through during the final copy edit. A few are to be expected but this many strikes me as sloppy work. It doesn't do the novel any favours.
The structure of the plot also shows a few problems. The connection between Dorint and Kanter is physically demanding on Dorint. Most authors would have built up these symptoms so both the reader and the character get some time to figure out what is going on and build the tension necessary later on in the novel. Dorint ends up in hospital early on in the novel and the revelation that the fates of these two worlds are linked are dumped on the reader rather ungraciously. A little more attention to foreshadowing would have done the novel a world of good. To name one example, climate change on Earth is revealed to be one of the symptoms of impending doom by the evil genius in Kantar's world. None of the characters in Dorint's reality show even the slightest hint that they are even aware of this problem. In fact, Dorint is mostly busy with his own private struggle with his source of inspiration. Raven passes up a good opportunity to raise the stakes in the story there.
Bron is a well intentioned novel, but also an ultimately unsatisfying read. What could have been an interesting story, simply collapses under the combined weight of uneven prose, problems with the plot and editing that leaves a lot to be desired. I would like to say that this novel is an uncut diamond but the truth is that the diamond hasn't even been freed of the matrix yet. This novel was simply not ready for publication.
Author: Rik Raven
Publisher: Books of Fantasy
First published: 2011