Literary bad boy Marnix Peeters on his raunchiest novel yet
The fourth novel by outspoken journalist-turned-author Marnix Peeters is his trademark blend of bizarre characters and controversial themes
It’s good to be bad
In other words: classic Peeters.
“It took me a while to find my voice,” he says. “I love Dutch author AF Th Van der Heyden and started to write like him, but when I turned 45, I discovered my own style – which is nothing like his. Now it’s verging more towards PG Wodehouse. Just a little juicier.”
His latest novel is Niemand houdt van Billie Vuist (Nobody Loves Billie Vuist), the story of a short, fat redhead who discovers that his mother is running a paedophile network called Phantasia, which supplies black and Asian girls to men.
Billie wants to put a stop to this, but the lecherous pastor Pelkmans, one of his mother’s accomplices, only has one thing on his mind: winning the Super Fick Lotto. Enter the closeted Gabba Henk, and things really start to get crazy. Will Billie succeed? And, more importantly, will he finally find love?
In 2008, Peeters, who celebrates his 50th birthday this year, wrote a series of articles for Het Laatste Nieuws about sex tourism in Pattaya, Thailand, where he encountered many heartbreaking scenes. These images lingered and eventually found their way into the new book, which is topped off with Peeters’ characteristic mix of twists and characters who are larger than life.
“The whole idea for this novel started with the Super Fick Lotto, or how pastor Pelkmans destroys himself,” he says. “I started writing it on my mobile phone while walking in the woods.”
Sex tourism and paedophilia aren’t exactly common themes in Flemish literature. “People are always shocked by my novels, but they are based on reality,” Peeters says. “We don’t realise how grim things are over there. People think I let my imagination run wild, but it is actually how things are in Pattaya.”
People are always shocked by my novels but they are based on reality
It’s striking, he continues, that readers “are appalled by Billie Vuist yet when they watch a documentary about the Belzec concentration camp, they don’t bat an eyelid. I think in this case they are more afraid of the writer than the work. Because I could be standing behind them in the supermarket,” he jokes.
Peeters excels at creating ballsy characters. Whether you love or hate them, you can’t deny that they’re unique, that they leap off the page and almost smack you in the face. And with Gabba Henk, Naphtuli Steinkopf, Joseph Bamba Julien or Adolf and Antoon Branstigters, Peeters is also inventive at naming his protagonists.
“I’m a freak when it comes to names,” he admits. “I once stopped reading a book because I couldn’t get over the banality of the names; it destroyed my imagination. Names have to be inspired without being cartoony.”
Though most of them are horrible human beings, some, like Billie, are tender and sweet, just down on their luck. “I feel for Billie,” Peeters says. “He’s had a hard time, he’s not easy on the eye. But when I was writing the ending, I was glowing with happiness.”
Beyond the boundaries
Many considering Peeters’ novels grotesque only adds to his charm. He dares to be different, he dares to push the boundaries and go beyond the conventions of local literature.
“There’s not a lot of fun in Flemish fiction, or genre fiction in general, for that matter,” he explains. “But you don’t have to be afraid of entertainment. Flemish authors are scared of letting go of this idea that fiction has to be stylised, have weighty themes and be profound. What’s wrong with having a good time? I feel strongly about introducing different styles and genres to Flemish fiction, and readers are starting to get on board – especially young people.”
The act of writing also doesn’t have to be a weighty endeavour, he claims. He loves his job and is disciplined when working on a novel, which is why he has published one a year since his first. “I never understood how authors could take years to write a novel,” he says. “But I don’t do anything other than write; there’s no other job or children to distract me. It’s just me, my computer and my mountain in the East Cantons. I don’t have the attention span to spend four years on the same story.”
Niemand houdt van Billie Vuist is a novel filled with peculiar characters, weighty themes and raunchy humour. As usual, Peeters tells it like it is, whether he’s talking about underage prostitution or fellow writers. He takes no prisoners, making him a refreshing rarity in Flemish literature.
Niemand houdt van Billie Vuist (★★★☆) is published in Dutch by Prometheus
photo: Charlie De Keersmaecker
More new books this month
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Ellen van Pelt • Vrijdag
Psychotherapist Ellen van Pelt’s debut novel tells the story of 30-something Eloïse, an architect who returns to her home town of Antwerp with her husband and baby daughter. Having difficulty dealing with motherhood, she walks the streets filled with memories and longing. Until one day she meets Jacob, her former lover. She decides to leave her old life and start anew. Drift is a tale about following your heart and how our parents’ choices form us. A charming debut. ★★☆☆
Alles verandert (Everything Changes)
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In prolific novelist Kristien Hemmerechts’ latest provocative novel, professor Iris Verdonck looks back on her prestigious career as well as her love life. One night she embarks on a tempestuous relationship with one of her students, a decision that changes her life dramatically and pushes her to the edge. Reminiscent of JM Coetzee’s Disgrace, Alles verandert seems to be on a mission to prove that anything men can do, women can do better. ★★★☆
Voet bij stuk (Stand Firm)
Joseph Pearce • Vrijdag
Emma is a secretary at Opperman & Winterberg, a prestigious publishing house. When the head of the company retires, he is succeeded by Barbara, a businesswoman who doesn’t know the first thing about publishing. Emma tries to uphold the literary standard and save the company from its downfall, especially when she discovers a wonderful manuscript. This navel-gazing satire filled with tongue-in-cheek jokes about the industry is intriguing and insightful. ★★☆☆