Friday, March 27, 2009

You should read it: Schijn, hoop en liefde (Pretense, hope and love) by Rianne Witte


Schijn, hoop en liefde (Pretence, hope and love) is the debut novel of Dutch author Rianne Witte, about a closeted lesbian living in Holland’s Bible belt. Yes, there really is such a place. It’s a fun and intriguing novel about coming out, religion, but especially about learning to stand up for yourself and living the life you want to.

The novel tells the story of Linda Schuiteman, a naive and insecure twenty-year-old girl who still lives with her parents, in a little village in the Veluwe (heart of the Dutch Bible belt). All her life she has been a “good girl”, and has done exactly what her parents told her to do, and what she thought they expected of her.

She always wanted to play soccer, but because her dad told her girls can’t play a boys game like that, she now plays handball. Worse even, she has a job at her uncle’s butcher shop, even though she is a vegetarian.

All her life Linda has known that she is into girls, but this is something she has always tried to suppress. She feels that her religion tells her it is wrong, and that her parents and the people from the village would never accept it if they knew.

Being accepted and fitting in are things that are very important to her. That is why she has made trying to be insignificant and compliant into an art form.

As many of you probably know, you can only deny your true feelings and who you really are for so long. When her friend Kayleigh encourages Linda to respond to a personal ad, little does she know that this one date is going to change her life forever.

No longer being able to hide who she is, Linda is going to have to find a way to stand up for herself and start living her own life the way she wants to.

I read this book in one go when I travelled across the Netherlands by train a while back. Once I started reading, I could not put it down. I was totally intrigued by Linda and the world that she was living in. Intrigued, because her world is so different to anything I have ever known.

I guess I have been lucky to have grown up in an environment, with very few rules and restrictions, that let me be myself.

Schijn, hoop en liefde paints a perfect picture of what life is like for a little lesbian growing up in a small religious community. As much as the story intrigued me, I also found myself getting really annoyed with Linda.


She is so unbelievably compliant and scared of the world, God and her father (not necessarily in that order), not to mention so very naive. I can’t believe anyone can be like that.

For example, at the beginning of the novel, she seems to have completely made peace with the fact that this is her crappy life, and it is always going to be like that. When her father tells her she cannot do something, she just accepts this and obeys him.

In addition, she truly beliefs that when she does certain “bad things”, God will hate her and punish her for it. It just made me shake my head a lot.

Luckily, as the story goes on, Linda changes a little and learns there is so much more to life than her little scary village. She finally realizes that if she wants to be happy, she is going to have to stop being so passive and make it happen.

I am so used to reading older lesbian novels, that all the current references in this book were kind of weird to read about, and it also made me feel old. Linda’s younger sister, for example, is really into the boy that plays in High school musical – who I have honestly never heard of.

Her friend Kayleigh also uses many English expressions in her conversation, which I found kind of annoying, and made me wonder if anyone really talks like that.

Besides these little things, I thought Schijn, hoop en liefde told a wonderful story, and overall was a great read. This is one of the better lesbian novels of the last few years, and I definitely recommend it to everyone.

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