We and Me
A devastating picture of a dysfunctional bourgeois family
From atop their opulent private mountain estate, We and Me follows the aristocratic Vandersandens from 1980 to 2013, for whom neuroses, claustrophobia, scandal and rebellion run rife. At the heart of the family is Sarah, whose coming of age is both daringly and sensitively explored in de Coster’s skillful prose. In this spellbinding novel, which has been compared to the work of Franzen, Eggers and Eugenides, Saskia de Coster provides a uniquely European take on the Great American Novel. With the family unit and some of life’s most pressing questions at its center, the award-winning We and Me paints a poignant picture of modern-day family life.
Saskia de Coster
Saskia de Coster (Belgium) is an author as well as a visual artist, playwright, and regular… Read more
Book Club Questions
- Could you sympathize with the rather unlikeable Melanie?
- There are clear parallels between father and daughter—are there any parts of Melanie or Mieke which you can recognize in Sarah?
- Does the description of the social structure of Nightingale Lane remind you of any place or social group you know in your country? What do you take away from this novel as being typically Flemish?
- What is the role of the first person plural ‘we’ voice?
- Does Sarah succumb to the pressure of the ‘we’ voice, does she overcome it, or does she perhaps find a new way of living with it?
- Do you know any of the bands mentioned in the novel (Bob Dylan, the grunge bands …)? Did you find any ties between music tastes and characters’ personalities?
- Does Mieke seem to consider Sarah mainly as the continuation of her husband’s family line, or does she also leave room for her own family line in her child? Do you recognize her attitude from mothers in your own life?
- Both the family as a whole and the individuals within it seem to move toward disintegration (insanity, bitterness, alienation) as the novel progresses. Do the final chapters show a possible movement toward harmony? If so, how?
- Does Mieke play an important role in that possible new harmony?
- Do you think sometimes a brusque move away (like Sarah’s move to New York) can be healthy for an oppressive family?
- Would you call Sarah’s choice to move away selfish, perhaps frivolous? If so, why?
- Will Sarah keep the baby? Should she?
‘A family drama unfolds in a wealthy housing estate in Belgian author De Coster’s first novel to be translated into English. De Coster is a smart, witty writer with a real talent for storytelling.’ —Kirkus Reviews
‘The Great Flemish Novel is not dead. It has just been written by Saskia de Coster. We and Me is a novel that will haunt me for a long time. Excellent and unforgettable’ —HERMAN KOCH, author of The Dinner
‘“Great American Novels” by writers such as Franzen, Dave Eggers and Jeffrey Eugenides remain a strong trend among UK fiction readers, and We and Me could quite easily be considered the European equivalent.’ —BILL GODBER, Book of the Month
‘For years the most stubborn, capricious and attractive pen of Belgium’ —TOM LANOYE
Why You Should Read This Book
‘The spark for this novel came when I started to repeat some of my mother’s favorite sayings. For a long time I thought I was a very independent individual, until I heard myself say something and it was as if my mother was speaking through my mouth. Although we are very different people, this moment made me realize that there is not only a ‘me’ but also a ‘we’ that we are all inevitably a part of.’
SASKIA DE COSTER, the author
‘We and Me is essentially a detective story—a story of family secrets and the kinds of unspoken past events that are familiar to all of us. Who am I, and how did I get this way? It’s written in the present tense, which gives it a level of suspense that continues from beginning to end. That is the translator’s challenge: maintaining that suspense.’
NANCY FOREST-FLIER, the translator
‘De Coster is an amazing author. Her writing is fluent, bold and intelligent and she touches upon one of the most essential questions possible: what exactly is it that we inherit from our parents, and what defines our very own identity?’
JUDITH UYTERLINDE, the publisher