Oskar, Bossie and Geesje have a great time making up stories about her, until one evening neither she nor her dog Jeckyll shows up. This event gives new meaning to their lazy days.
The multiple-award winning Bart Moeyaert is a poet, a novelist and has also dabbled in a bit of theatre. Most of his books are suitable for all ages, but because of his diverse oeuvre, critics often find it hard to label him and frequently refer to him as one thing or the other. “It’s the first time I’ve explicitly said that it is a novel for children,” he tells me, “and, for the first time, interviewers have told me that it’s surely suitable for adults, as well. Whenever I’ve said that my novels are for all ages, they always used to disagree and brand it.”
De Melkweg – the name of the road in the book, but also meaning “milky way” – is an atmospheric little gem that is, indeed, a good read for all ages. Despite its young protagonists, the novel deals with hefty themes such death, loneliness and the transience of everyday life. It also addresses subjects like young love, absent parents and the complex relationship between brothers.
Filled with powerful emotions, this is a beautiful book, inside and out. The cover was created by British painter Ben McLaughlin. “I’m always on the lookout for a cover or a designer that suits the story because the content is only half of the work when creating a book,” says Moeyaert, 47.
Including some familiar rites of passage, De Melkweg uses a boots theme (suggesting Sinatra’s famous “These Boots Are Made for Walking”) as a message that being a child isn’t always easy, but it’s important to follow your own path, to keep on going. “Children may not know who Nancy Sinatra is,” says Moeyaert, “but they can now easily find out thanks to YouTube, and this will make their reading experience richer. The same goes for adults: A lot of people think they know her, but how many have actually listened – really listened – to her songs?”
De Melkweg is being hailed by Flemish critics as a modern-day masterpiece. Moeyaert, former city poet of Antwerp and a prolific writer of more than 30 books, has hit a chord through a mix of pop culture references and timeless issues. The novel’s distinct lack of technology suggests not necessarily a simpler but a more innocent type of childhood that resonates with adult readers.
“I like to go back to basics, which in this case was playing outside” he explains. “I guess this is due to Astrid Lindgren and Annie MG Schmidt who I used to read growing up. They also portrayed a time when children built tree houses and played with beetles. These are remnants of my own childhood.”
A lot is insinuated in De Melkweg, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks – characteristic of Moeyaert’s style. “Some authors are convinced that by adding a lot of detail and dialogue, they give the reader a clear picture of reality, but how often do you actually focus on these details in every-day life? How often do you have profound lifechanging discussions? I think reality is best represented by saying or showing as little as possible.”
This type of suggestive storytelling fits perfectly with one of the key subjects in the novel – imagination, something children and novelists have in common. “Escaping to your imaginary world is a method of self-defence, a way to save yourself from the harsh reality,” claims Moeyaert, “My thoughts, for example, are my second life. It’s a world where no one else can enter, where I am safe, and that’s something the children also do in this novel.”
Moeyaert has won all Flanders’ literary prizes at some point in his 28-year career, including the coveted Golden Owl, the Inter-provincial Literature Prize and the Flemish Culture Prize for Youth Literature. Several of his books have been translated into English, and this year he was nominated for the Swedish Arts Council’s prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (his ninth time). He has been nominated four times for the Hans Christian Anderson Award and has won Germany’s White Raven twice.
“Being nominated for an international prize means that my own country thinks I am worthwhile, which is the biggest compliment.
Dirk Bracke · Davidsfonds Fontaine
Together with Bart Moeyaert, Bracke is the popular Flemish
author of adolescent fiction today. Catwalk looks like a glossy
magazine and tells the story of Polly, a young girl who is
approached by a talent scout who wants to turn her into a
model. Much to the dismay of her overprotective stepfather,
she pursues her dream but soon realises that dreams don’t come
cheap. Catwalk takes you down a road full of glitter and glamour,
jealousy and competition and shows us that not everything is as
picture perfect as it seems.
Pat van Beirs & Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem · Manteau
Galgenmeid (Gallows Girl) won this spring’s Boekenleeuw, an
award presented to the best children’s book by a Flemish author.
It is an elaborate, eloquent historical novel set in 16th-century
Flanders, where Gitte Niemandsdochter (“nobody’s daughter”)
was dropped off at an orphanage when she was five. She grows
up to be a thief and a grifter but manages to escape the gallows
thanks to her powers of persuasion. Gitte soon learns that she
is in fact not nobody’s daughter, but the daughter of a Spanish
Duke. He decides to use her as a spy at the start of the war
between Flanders and Spain.
Pieter Gaudesaboos, Mieke Versyp & Sabien Clement · Lannoo
The latest collaboration between the three authors who won
the Golden Owl Prize for Youth Literature in 2009 (for Linus)
is a collection of three monologues saturated with the Flemish
vernacular. It’s a book about doomed marriages in fact – due
to unrealistic expectations, skeletons in the closet or simply
because it’s just not meant to be. Filled with irony and glorious
illustrations, it is a raw yet poetic and certainly contemporary
look at the pitfalls, passion and potential of this age-old