Name: Simone van der Vlugt
Title of Book: The Reunion
'...a wonderful, understated gem.'
Sabine lives in Amsterdam but she hasn’t always lived there. Her childhood was spent in a small town where tragedy struck. On one hot day in May, Isabel, a girl at her school, disappeared. After many months of searching, Isabel was never found. Nine years later and there is to be a school reunion at Sabine’s old school. It is this upcoming event that brings old memories to the fore and pieces of memory start coming to light. As Sabine begins to sift through the pieces of what happened to Isabel her life takes a sudden shift.
Olaf is a work colleague and someone she knew, but in the old days as a child. He was her brother’s friend and they all knew Isabel, who liked the boys. As Sabine begins to realise that Olaf is not such a charmer after all, but someone with a volatile temper, she begins to wonder if Olaf doesn’t have more to do with Isabel’s disappearance than he admits. As other men from her school past materialise in to the present, the images leading to Isabel’s vanishing begin to fall in to place until she finally knows what happened to Isabel on that fateful day. But has she realised too late…
The Reunion is a marvellous little masterpiece. It is not littered with lots of characters and a lot of the time the reader is left roaming inside the head and thoughts of Sabine, but any outsiders portrayed here are required and have a purpose to the story. They are never superfluous. The author has taken a big gamble on Sabine as she can sometimes be a little pathetic and weak. She seems to be one of those people who are always ‘put upon’ throughout her life.
The author is especially clever at drawing parallels, with Sabine describing the bullies at her school who relentlessly tormented her through her school years, even Isabel who had once been best friends with Sabine. Simone van der Vlugt is particularly good at creating those school years and the horror that waited Sabine every day at the wiles of such a merciless gang. I imagine that as the author is also a children’s writer she is able to see more clearly than others how children can be towards one another. In the present the author draws a parallel by putting Sabine in the same situation at her work, albeit not as vicious, but bullying all the same.
The Reunion is a wonderful, understated gem. Using characters and dialogue sparsely this author smoothly raises the suspense as Sabine stumbles deeper and deeper in to the hazy mists and mysteries of yesterday. This is a marvellous subtle, psychological novel worthy of being compared to the best of Barbara Vine. Oh, and I defy anyone not to have the ABBA song, ‘The Day Before You Came’, playing over and over again in your mind while reading this. It certainly did with me…
Reviewed by: C.S.