A deeply controversial new work of fiction by a Dutch author who grew up on a farm has both rejected his readers and cemented the writer’s place in the literary canon.
My Heavenly Favorite, by 32-year-old Lucas Rijneveld, tells the harrowing story of a 49-year-old veterinarian and father of two who falls in love with a troubled 14-year-old girl.
The novel explores how the pedophile grooms his teenage victim, while telling the story from his perspective.
Described as a “modern Lolita” by one critic, the confrontational novel has been described as “disgusting” in its content, although it also has a “hideous power.” Readers have been warned: “Read it and squirm.”
It is the second novel by Rijneveld, who won the Booker International Prize for her first novel The Discomfort of Evening in 2020 (published under her previous name, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, before coming out as non-binary).
Lucas Rijneveld, author of a controversial new novel that explores pedophilia from the abuser’s perspective, is hailed as a literary star
Critics have praised My Heavenly Favorite as a haunting but brilliant work of literature set in a small farming community in the Netherlands, a backdrop that reflects the author’s own upbringing.
The teenager who is groomed by the abuser comes from a religious family and has had a strict upbringing. Her mother abandoned her and she lost her older brother when she was a child, but she has a secret obsession with male genitalia and longs for a penis.
In a strange twist, when the pedophile grooms his victim, he plays on her secret desire by offering her a severed otter penis, which she hides in her bedroom.
Rijneveld was born female, but now uses he/him pronouns after coming out as non-binary for the first time in 2020.
My Heavenly Favorite follows the twisted infatuation and obsession that a father of two develops for a teenage girl.
As the characters begin to develop, readers also discover that the girl believes she can talk to Hitler and Stalin, and suffers a type of psychosis that leads her to believe that she transformed into the second plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. Center on September 11.
The novel is written from the perspective of the abuser, who narrates in the second person while speaking to his victim and uses explicit metaphors from his experiences as a veterinarian to describe his “love.”
He Times reports that one line reads, “You lay like a broken calf in the nursery of my degenerate desires” and describes her as having “soft skin on her udders.”
In one particularly disturbing scene, he rapes his victim in the back of his truck on a memory foam mattress he bought, surrounded by empty McDonald’s boxes.
He Telegraph‘s Luke Kennard describes the narrator as “a classic narcissist” who manipulates his victim while holding her in his clutches.
He praises the novel for doing a “magnificent job” of portraying obsession and infatuation as “a kind of disease.”
Meanwhile the guardianSandra Newmain praises My Heavenly Favorite for portraying “the misery and despair of sexual violence more faithfully than any other author she has read.”
In this twisted story of an unhealthy infatuation, there seem to be some parallels with Rijneveld’s first novel and, indeed, with his own upbringing.
In The Discomfort of Evening, the main character is a young woman named Jas, who also lost her older brother in a skiing accident.
Rijneveld himself grew up mourning his older brother, who died at the age of 12 when he was hit by a bus on his way to school, when the author was only three years old.
Speaking about his first novel, Rijneveld said it was the talk of his rural community after being hailed as a rising star in the Dutch literary world. However, he told The Guardian in 2020: “My family are too scared to read it.”
He later added: ‘I hope my parents read it one day and are proud; that they understand that it is a novel, that it is not just about them. But it’s probably too soon.
After the death of his brother, the central character Jas tries to keep his family together and ensure that his lineage continues. She keeps two toads in a box under her bed and encourages them to mate, hoping that her parents will do the same.
Another parallel in Rijneveld’s novel that may have been inspired by his own upbringing is religion.
“He had a very strong belief in God and was convinced he lived in the attic,” he told The Guardian.
In another interview with stunnedhe said, “There is definitely an overlap between my own story and the story of the novel,” referring to The Discomfort of Evening.
He also talked about gender identity as a child, saying he had always been “more youthful.”
As a child, his gender identity was never an issue among his peers; However, he recalled that two girls asked him about his gender when he arrived in high school.
“After that I knew that if I acted more feminine, they wouldn’t harass me,” she said.
At the time of the interview in 2020, Rijneveld was using they/them pronouns and revealed that they were unsure whether a full gender reassignment process was the right path.
He has since dropped his given name, Marieke, and now goes by Lucas Rijneveld, using he/her pronouns.