elena ferrante: my brilliant friend (2011)


Naples streetscape – copyright ilolab 2016

You have to love a novel that starts with the disappearance of one of its protagonists. When Elena discovers that Lila, her childhood friend, has not only disappeared, but also removed all physical traces of her existence, she gets angry. She resolves to write a novel in which she will record all she has found out about Lila over the past sixty years. Story-telling as a corrective, an act of vengeance.

Having thus framed the novel in the prologue, Ferrante takes the reader back to 1950s Naples, a gritty and at times violent urban environment, where being male is a distinct advantage, and being streetwise a necessity. Enter the unlikely protagonists: two six-year-old girls.

Continue reading

remembrance day


It is an anniversary of sorts: 102 years ago, on 10 September 1914, my great-grandfather, Aloïs Delcon, was killed in his pub in Haacht (Belgium) by marauding German troops. His 16-year-old son fled the scene in a hail of gunfire and collapsed in an asparagus field with a shoulder wound.

In Fate and Asparagus (Kindle version) I tell the story of that encounter and the events that ensued and cast a shadow over our family for years to come. See the Fate and Asparagus page of my blog for other versions.


secular prayer for dark times


Nations line up, bristling.

Everyday symbols imbued with treachery.

A new spring heralds years of destruction.

A sunflower field receives fallen angels.

Nine dashes mark isles of discord.

Lessons learned at great cost

forgotten or disregarded.

Oh, reckless race.

There is no wisdom in these times.


Young men in black

detonate themselves

in markets airports subways.

Young men in uniform

aim rockets bombs drones.

Hellfire. Predator.

From Gaza to the Hindu Kush,

from Dhaka to Dallas,

there is no love in these times.


We live in fear

and turn against our brothers.

Our lives diminished

as we point out the others.

Our priests are on trial,

and we are led by fools.

There is no path for these times.


Too many homes

imploded into rubble.

Too many children

washed up on the shore.

Too many on the roads

with fevered dreams,

garrotted by the past.

Too many futures foregone.


So let us read old books

of fantasy, love and caring,

of gardens moist with dew.

Let us rise against the black tide

of hatred and despair.

Let us build, create and heal.

That is the wisdom for these times.


Let us look into our hearts

and remove those scabs of fear.

Ungird your angry armour

lest you turn into what you fight.

There is more to unite us,

on our fragile blue planet,

than to place us apart.

That is the love for these times.


Let us link hands

with our brothers and sisters.

Show them our love,

listen to their pain,

share our bread.

For violence feeds off itself

until it is quenched by love.

That is the path for these times.


Start right now.



© Gilbert F. J. Van Hoeydonck

20 July 2016


One of the tricks I have learned from Leo Babauta of zen habits fame is the power of making a public commitment. Your project may still be in its infancy and you may doubt your ability to finish it, let alone deliver something astonishing, but you come out and saIMG_0497y I am going to do this. It is a scary move, one which places you on the opposite end of the scale from politicians, who seem to be always looking for wiggle room. But giving a public undertaking formally ‘outs’ the project as one of your important goals and can act as a powerful reminder to yourself and a catalyst to spur you into action on those doldrum days.

With that in mind I hereby announce that I have started planning my second novel. Its working title is Perdition; and it will be set in Flanders and France in the fourteenth century. Yes, I know, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

So wish me luck please, and keep checking back here for updates.

As for my first novel, I am still editing the second draft of Resilience. And I have a first reader working her way through the text. I had hoped that things would have progressed further, but that thought stems from impatience really. From a broader perspective, quality matters more than timing, and I am keen to hone the manuscript as much as I can.

emma donoghue’s room: terrific or terrifying?

2016-04-29 15.25.03This is a novel I dreaded reading. The story of a young woman imprisoned in a single room, told from the perspective of Jack, her five-year-old son, who was born into captivity and has never seen the outside world.

The person who recommended it to our book group had introduced the novel in terms of its philosophical implications, but I could only think of the depravity underpinning the plot. So, was I able to overcome my bias and finish the book? Continue reading

liane moriarty: the husband’s secret


Photo: Wolf Soul (2007) by Romel, under Creative Commons licence.

In the opening scene of The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty introduces Cecilia Fitzpatrick as “a school mum and part–time Tupperware consultant.” Happily married, mother of three, memories of her younger self stored in the attic in neatly labeled plastic containers, checking off tasks as she moves through the day. As readers we know that so much control and organisation constitutes hubris; it is rattling the cages of the gods of narration. Continue reading