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Trivia Quiz for “The Discomfort of Evening” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Trivia Quiz for The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

(winner of the International Booker Prize, 2020)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 11/20/22

(answers below)

A. Memoirs of a Child

1. Motivation. Multiple reasons lie behind the choice to write these (fictional) memoirs, yet none are explicitly stated by the narrator (who shares some features of the author’s own life). Which one of the following does not seem likely as a reason to write this book?

a. a great affection for family and desire to share funny and sweet stories

b. a victim’s effort to seek justice—divine or societal—for the suffering she’s endured

c. a novelist’s desire to shock city folk by exploiting brutal and grotesque aspects of rural life

d. a one-time believer’s want to expose harsh views promulgated by the Dutch Reformed Church.

2. Duration. How much time is covered in the narration?

a. Nine years: she is 12 years old at the beginning and 21 at the end.

b. One month: she is 10 at beginning and end, and the time goes only from December to January.

c. One night: it all happens on the terrible night her brother drowned, when she was 10.

d. Two years: she grows from age 10 to age 12.

B. A Strange Worldview

3. Maxims. The Discomfort of Evening includes numerous judgments and lessons on life by the young narrator. Which one of the following does she not say (or think)?

a. “Anger has hinges that need oiling.”

b. “There’s nothing here to smile about.”

c. “For our generation, professional prestige lay most significantly in the moral worth of one’s employer.”

d. “Everything that requires secrecy here is accepted in silence.”

4. Home sweet home? Which one of the following does not describe the narrator’s home?

a. They have only three TV channels: Nederlands 1, 2, and 3.

b. They live on a farm, with various animals including cows, rabbits, and chickens.

c. They consider stewed cow’s udder with mustard to be a special treat.

d. They are hiding Jews in their basement, the narrator thinks, because her mom stores food there.

e. Their home is beloved far and wide for the music, friendship, and joy one finds there.

C. People and Their Problems

5. Strained relations abound. Which one of the following is not in this book?

a. A brother sexually abuses his sister.

b. A boy sexually abuses a neighbor girl.

c. A girl masturbates with a stuffed animal.

d. A mother becomes grief-stricken, then numb, then suicidal, faced with her life’s challenges.

e. A father kills his son, to teach him a lesson.

f. A girl suffers from long-term constipation and her father tries to “cure” her.

g. A boy forces a girl to kill an animal as a sacrifice.

6. A difficult world surrounds them. Which of the following maxims is not cited?

a. “Crows in a farmyard are an omen of death.”

b. “You don’t take rotten mandarins back to the greengrocer’s.”

c. “Mum doesn’t like made-up things, because stories in your imagination often leave out suffering and Mum thinks it should be part of things.”

d. “I promise to make you feel wanted, loved and cherished every single day.”

e. “Sometimes it’s good to frighten them a bit.”

7. Death is the central theme and end of this book. Which of the following is not from The Discomfort of Evening?

a. “You die fast or slowly and both things have their advantages and disadvantages.”

b. “Since death is inevitable, it’s best to forget about it. Carpe diem!”

c. “Death never just happens to you, there is always something that causes it. This time it was you. You can kill too.”

d. “I asked God if He please couldn’t take my brother Matthies instead of my rabbit.”

8. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is also a poet and some lines are poignant or remarkable. Which of the following is not from The Discomfort of Evening?

a. “I only saw her lips moving and my mother’s pursed shut, like mating slugs.”

b. “What more can a bear want?” [the mother asks]. “Love, I think to myself, like the warmth in the cowshed of all those breathing cattle with a common goal—survival.”

c. A maid screams: “There was no reflection of him in the mirror!”

d. “There’s a drowned butterfly inside me.”

e. “Their hands were always searching for something and if you were no longer able to hold an animal or a person tenderly, it was better to let go and turn your attention to other useful things instead.”

9. Striking symbols. Which of the following is not a symbolic presence in this book?

a. a pet hamster is drowned in a glass of water, while three children watch

b. a child is forced to break open her piggy bank (in the form of a cow), with a hammer

c. an IUD (or “coil” birth control device) is found in a baby book

d. a painting becomes uglier and uglier, while the person in the painting becomes mean and cruel

e. a sign says: “LOOK OUT! TOADS CROSSING,” beside a road littered with crushed bodies

10. The message? Which of the following is not a quote from this book, on family and religion?

a. “It must have been most irksome to find himself bound by a hard-wrung pledge to stand in the stead of a parent to a strange child he could not love. “

b. “I’m beginning to have more and more doubts about whether I find God nice enough to want to go and talk to Him.”

c.  “It might sound crazy, but I miss my parents even though I see them every day.”

d. “One day I’d like to go to myself.”

Open question: Some might ask whether such a brutal, depressing story should be considered as “art,” let alone win the prestigious International Booker prize. As Alice Walker wrote: “If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?”


1. a.

2. d.

3. c. (That quote is from The Remains of the Day.)

4. e

5. e.

6. d. (That quote is from a website of loving quotations [], certainly not from this book.)

7. b. (That quote is a platitude of my own invention.)

8. c. (That quote is from Dracula.)

9. d. (That plot is from The Picture of Dorian Gray.)

10. a. (That quote is from Jane Eyre.)

P.S. The open question remains open; we questioned what it means to be “better,” among other things…


Join us next month, on Sunday December 11 at 3pm, when we will discuss two classic stories that have been adapted into movies. You are invited to view the films and compare them to the stories (if time permits).

The books to read are:

1. Arthur Schnitzler, Dream Story. Also known as Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, it is a 1926 novella by the Austrian writer Schnitzler (128 pages). It was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick called Eyes Wide Shut (1999), starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.

2. James Joyce, “The Dead.” First published in 1924, this story is the last one in the Irish writer Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners. It is about 50 pages.  A film version of The Dead exists as well: it is the 1987 drama directed by John Huston, written by his son Tony Huston, and starring his daughter Anjelica Huston. 

Happy reading and viewing; hope to see you in December!

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Day six, the agony of the perfectionist

Day six agony of machine quilting.jpg

Today was agony!  Perfectionism is my curse.  If you thought I was liberating myself by turning to a life of sewing instead of my old torture (scholarly writing and publishing), think again.  Machine quilting is a new version of hell on earth.  Nevertheless, I did manage to create five seams hidden more or less in plain sight.  (See the tiny white stitches in between the seams?) I have only two more to go. The end is near!

Off to T’ai chi class now, to let go of all that tension and accept everything as it is… even my imperfect self.

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in medias res doesn’t mean suffering

Hi everybody,

Today’s meditation took me back to my graduate school days again!  As I have let go of my institutional identity more and more, in preparation for leaving Notre Dame and South Bend, I have come to cherish that student self more and more. That girl from Seattle who loves France, has a whole tapestry of friends and memories in France, and who only became a professor as a means to continue that love affair. (And because I could not get a job with the state department or an airline!)

One thing I learned in grad school is a bunch of literary terms, most of which are not that useful in daily life. But sometimes they are. Sometimes they mask profound philosophical truths. One such term is in medias res. In medias res means “in the middle of the thing.” It is a literary device that you’ll see everywhere–in TV shows, films, as well as classic literature. Its power comes from making us feel off-center and a little anxious, the way life really feels sometimes. Consider these three famous opening scenes:

  1. from a famous play*

Barnardo:  Who’s there?

Francisco: Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

Barbardo:  Long live the King!

Francisco: Barnardo?

2. from a famous work of non-fiction**

“But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction–what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?”

3. from a famous work of fiction***

“The litigation had seemed interminable and had in fact been complicated; but by the decision on the appeal the judgment of the divorce court was confirmed as to the assignment of the child.”

You are probably thinking, “What?!  What’s going on? Who are those guards and why do they know each other? Who asked her to give a speech about women and fiction, and why does she seem so defensive about changing the subject?  Who got custody of the child? why was the divorce so complicated and what might that mean for the child?”

As you can see now, each one of these books pulls in the reader by making you feel like you are entering a real world. A world where important things are already happening. And as reader, it is your job to figure out what is going on. We assume that the things going on make sense, even if they are immoral, unjust, foolish or doomed. That’s the writer’s trick.

But life is like that too!  Every day, we step into situations that began long before our arrival, and that we don’t understand, except we usually don’t realize it. We think everything we see around us is normal and that our feelings in response to it all are normal too. But we are highly susceptible to influences good and bad! Beware!

Remember that, although you may feel stuck in a situation, you can choose your response to it. You can choose to limit suffering and focus on love, think about a long-term approach to life. If no one else is kind to you, be kind to yourself. Make plans to get out, if necessary, or limit negative influences around you. Make this day worth remembering, because as you will realize tomorrow, those feelings–good or bad–that you wake up with tomorrow were nurtured today. As mortal, earthbound creatures, we are always living in medias res.


* William Shakespeare, Hamlet

** Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

***Henry James, What Maisie Knew