A razor-sharp psychological duet
Elisabeth is dying. Coco jumps at this chance to prove her love, and promptly moves in with her deteriorating mother. A venture that quickly sends both parties spiraling out of control. Alongside a supporting cast of ex-bosses, ex-husbands, and (soon to be ex) boyfriends, the two women attempt to work through the annals of their dark yet often wildly humorous relationships. Psychologically astute and eye-poppingly candid, this is a tale about both excess and denial in which some things perhaps would have been better left unspoken. Sometimes the only person who understands you in this world is your hairdresser.
Esther Gerritsen (1972) is a Dutch novelist, columnist, and scriptwriter. She made her literary debut in 2000… Read more
Book Club Questions
- The novel is called Craving. What expressions of this theme can you find within the text?
- Did it take time to get into reading the book or were you immediately drawn into the story? Why or why not?
- Do you identify more with Elizabeth or Coco? Why?
- What effects do Elizabeth and Coco have on each other’s personality? Can you see ways in which one has shaped the other?
- Try to put yourself in Coco’s place in the final scene. What do you think she is feeling, and why?
- Why do you think Elizabeth’s husband left her? Do you think he still harbors feelings for her?
- How do you think having a child affected Elizabeth?
- What is the significance of Coco’s crashing through the window?
- Can you identify points in which the characters fail to understand each other? Or, alternatively, points when they want or try to?
- How does Elizabeth’s boss feel about Elizabeth?
- What effect does Elizabeth’s cancer diagnosis have on each of the main characters?
- Was the setting one that felt familiar or relatable to you? Why or why not?
- Did you come away from this book wanting to read more by this author or in this style?
“Droll and horrific and incredibly moving” —New York Times
“The lives of others, in all their peculiarity, are given sympathetic scrutiny in this diverting European oddity, in cool prose and naturalistic dialogue.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Cool, sparse, and delicious, Esther Gerritsen’s Craving hits all the right notes. This is an author who is unafraid of both complex characters and complex emotion (Thank God!)” —ALICE SEBOLD, author of The Lovely Bones
“A confronting and cold-edged, but still black comic, descent into destructive psychology and the abusive potential of love.” —The Age/Sydney Morning Herald
“Bleak humor and extended ruminations on mortality converge in Gerritsen’s novel about the fraught relationship between Elizabeth and her grown daughter, Coco—made even more complex when Elizabeth is diagnosed with terminal cancer. As Coco aims to care for her mother—not always succeeding—both women ponder their own frustrations with life, missed opportunities, and enduring connections.” —Words Without Borders
“Ably translated into English for an appreciative American readership by Michele Hutchison, Craving showcases author Esther Gerritsen’s sparse and lucid prose, and her genuine flair for absurdist logic and melancholy wit in the deft crafting of characters that are as recognizable as they are memorable.” —Midwest Book Review
“Funny, moving and memorable, Craving is a wryly observed novel about family, human frailties and how relationships fracture.” —Edinburgh International Book Festival
“Elegiac, beautiful and very strong, it’s a novel you devour in one sitting, drawn into the vortex as the inevitable ending spins nearer. Gerritsen shows an almost surgical ability to slice to the bare nerves of difficult human relationships—her voice is precise and spare.” —Daily Mail
“Funny, transparent, and complicated, Craving is a refreshingly honest portrayal of what can happen when a dysfunctional family faces sudden death. An extraordinary, haunting book, Craving is a short novel with staying power.” —The Gazette
Why You Should Read This Book
‘I don’t like pronouncements like “The dividing line between truth and illusion is wafer-thin,” or “There is no such thing as good and evil”. Good and evil do exist, and madness crosses into an often horrifying and painful no man’s land. But I also understand that people are confused; I am confused myself and all I am trying to do is to investigate how many different ways there are to make us feel so.’
ESTHER GERRITSEN, the author
‘Craving is raw and intriguing, a tale of unsatisfied needs and desires and complicated familial relationships. The language is fresh and naturalistic, which made the book a joy to translate. As harrowing as Coco’s story is, it will ring true with readers who, too, crave love, food, sex or escape.’
MICHELE HUTCHISON, the translator
‘Gerritsen confronts you with the human incapacity to truly communicate and understand each other. Her characters are driven by irrational and at times destructive forces and desires. They stay with you long after you have finished reading. Her work belongs to the best writing The Netherlands has to offer.’
JUDITH UYTERLINDE, the publisher