Smitten will leave you in tears!
A review by Ben Antao
The word smitten at once brought to mind the adolescent idea of love that tends to fade away as the adolescents get over it after becoming young adults. However, in Jake Hogeterp’s novel titled Smitten, the idea doesn’t weaken but lingers on, forcing the reader to look at teenage love and friendship in a new light.
The story centres round a Canadian family, adherents of Dutch Reformed Church. The novel begins with a tragic accident in which Paul van Hoop is badly hurt during a canoe trip over white water rapids in Ontario, with his friend Tom Zondervan, the first person protagonist. The opening is gripping and draws the reader into the narrative.
Through flashbacks, the author fills in the backstory of the other characters, especially that of Revered Arendt van Hoop, who immigrated to Canada from Holland, after serving as a chaplain to the nursing wards in a hospital soon after the Second World War in 1945. Both Paul and Tom are bosom friends, although Tom is a lapsed Christian of the faith.
It is after the accident when Paul is in hospital that the main action begins to develop at an engaging pace, with the author weaving in twists in the plot to inject melodrama and surprises.
The writing is fluent and captures the lifestyle of the Dutch Reformed faithful in Canada.
Here is a sample:
Reverend: “So, Thomas, tell me why want to become a member of the church.”
Tom: I wasn’t expecting anything quite so direct, and wasn’t sure whether the formal “Thomas” was meant to intimidate or be interpreted as a signal that I had somehow slinked through the initiation. All year long and two or three years prior, we had been catechized on the salient points of church doctrine. …And now here was van Hoop hurling the whole basket of goods in my face and asking me for some kind of personal statement.
My answer popped out before I had a chance to give it a thought. “I don’t.”
If I found something missing, it is the setting that could have been better identified through street names as happening in Toronto or Hamilton.
The theme of the story appears to be a brooding angst over wrong doing as Tom blames himself for the accident.
I recommend this novel if you are a sucker for emotion and tears; but more than that, you’ll get a front row view of the hanky-panky going on inside so-called Christian families. The author writes whereof he knows.
Ben Antao is a journalist and novelist living inToronto.