Review: The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt

I added this book to my TBR pile after reading Dorte’s review and chose it for my F2F bookclub to read because I’ve since read several other good reviews for it and I wanted to pull something from ‘the pile’ rather than buy a new book for bookclub (at least this month).

Sabine has been off work for a year due to Depression and as the book opens she is returning to her work at a bank for half-days only. During her absence a woman called Renee seems to have taken over the small office and she makes it clear that she is now in charge and Sabine will have to do exactly as she says. At the same time as she is coping with this situation Sabine is starting to remember events from when she was a teenager and her classmate Isabel disappeared, seemingly forever.

Sabine is a very well drawn character. As a young teenager she is realistically shown as the victim of bullying and ostracism and as a troubled young woman she is also depicted very naturally. Both the way her struggle to deal with Depression is shown as a daily hurdle rather than something which can be forever banished and the fragmented way her memory of the traumatic period from her earlier days returns both had a particularly credible feel to them for me. I felt everything from empathy (for the office bullying) to annoyance (because she didn’t change her locks immediately her odd boyfriend started displaying his true nature) for Sabine and it’s always a sign of good characterisation when I am engaged in this way. There are solid minor characters too including Olaf, the aforementioned odd boyfriend, and Renee, the office bully (who I failed to feel much for when something horrid happened to her).

The novel really is full of suspense. The events that surrounded Isabel’s disappearance are slowly revealed over the course of the story but at each turn a potential new culprit comes to light. What did the creepy school caretaker have to do with the disappearance? Which of the many boys who lusted after Isabel played a role? Robin, Sabine’s much-loved older brother? Bart her own teenage boyfriend who kept their relationship a secret? Or perhaps Olaf, Sabine’s current boyfriend who is reluctant to talk of his own link to Isabel? Although she now lives in Amsterdam Sabine keeps returning to the small town where she grew up in an effort to help the memories that she has locked away to resurface so there is a constant juxtaposition between the present and the past which helps to flesh the story out.

I did think perhaps the author was trying a little too hard to misdirect readers down a particular line of reasoning. This perversely made me guess the real ending relatively early on in one of those ‘if she wants me to think A then the real solution can only be B’ thought processes that I sometimes have when reading crime fiction. I also found myself wondering at several loose ends left at the end of the book, including what might have become of all the other missing girls that Sabine uncovers in her search for the truth surrounding Isabel’s disappearance.

However the novel has much to commend it, not least its very reasonable length, its sensitive translation by a new (to me) translator Michele Hutchison, the fact it is a standalone novel, its excellent characters and the very satisfactory build-up of suspense that kept me up late one night. I am looking forward to reading Simone van der Vlugt’s next novel Shadow Sister (due to be published in English in December this year).

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My rating 3.5/5

Translator Michele Hutchison; Publisher Harper Collins [this translation 2009, original edition 2004]; ISBN 9780007301317; Length 295 pages

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The Reunion has been reviewed at Crime Scraps, DJ’s KrimiblogIt’s a Crime! (Or a Mystery), Mysteries in ParadisePetrona

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3 Responses to Review: The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this review. I’m quite eager to read this one, too, especially after Dorte’s review and Maxine’s review. And with your fine review, this one is definitely going closer to the top of my TBR.

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  2. Dorte H says:

    I am glad you liked it, and I admire your ability to show what you didn´t like about the ending without spoiling it. I might have said something similar if I had known how 😀

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  3. Maxine says:

    Great review, Bernadette. I agree very much with it. Also about the ending- both guessing “who did it” (though like you I was misdirected a few times first) and about the particular loose end to which you allude. I really liked the novel, and read it because of a review at It’s A Crime! (crimeficreader’s blog).

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