Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Man You Love to Hate: Guest Post by Aliefka Bijlsma

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Release Date: 2 September 2012
Publisher: Augustus
Melchior Steenbergen is leading an idyllic life. An elite member of Holland’s diplomatic corps, he is the Consul General in Rio, with a sweeping view of the Ipanema bay from his official residence, and a beautiful wife 20 years his junior. His trustworthy maid, Mercy, who is from Ghana and has followed him everywhere, attends to his every need. At 59, his time as a diplomat is winding down, but he expects to put one more feather in his cap: an ambassadorship. Paris, perhaps. Doesn't he deserve it?

But Melchior’s glorious world is a façade, a house of cards, and sharp winds are starting to blow.

The Consul General's Wife is the story of a man, elegant and dignified, unable to recognize his own flaws. Set against the mystical and unforgiving city of Rio, the novel is a comedy about a dying generation. And a tragedy about a man who has only a few days left to wake up.

The Man You Love to Hate

During a radio-interview about The Consul General’s Wife, I was asked whether my main character, Melchior Steenbergen, was based on a real person. My answer to this is that Melchior is an archetype. He is your typical white, male, baby-boomer who was worked for a prestigious institution all his life and has always been adored for his status. He is self-delusional and goes through life with a sense of entitlement.
 Does this remind you of someone? Of course it does: Dominique-Strauss Kahn.

I had written The Consul General’s Wife long before DSK was accused for raping an African chambermaid. Apparently, I nailed that archetype as it turns out I had written a scene which is almost an exact copy of what DSK ended up doing. Except in the case of my character it concerned his own maid from Ghana.
 Why do these men do such things? Having studied this narcissistic character, I have come to believe they truly think they are doing their victims a favor. Generally speaking, a woman’s body will react, physically, to sex whether she’s willed the situation or it’s been forced on her.

But more importantly, the entire adult lives of DSK-type-men have been geared towards nurturing the expectation that their needs should be fulfilled. Yes sir, no sir, whatever you want sir. They feel they have a right to fly business class, to skip queues, to park a car wherever they want and... to have sex with women.
 Women, oh my dear fellow-females! Why on earth would you fall for a man like DSK? Especially if you’re twenty years his junior? While developing my characters, I had to find an answer to this. Why would the talented, young photographer (Leandra) end up marrying my Consul General.

It isn’t solely the attraction of power or glamour. It’s that these narcissists are usually irresistibly charming persona. Often, they are flamboyant, extravert and they are definitely not the boring goody-old-two shoes. Quite the opposite, usually they’re bad. On top of it, they live in worlds many dream of being a part of. No doubt, so did that chambermaid.
 Another challenge I faced while writing was this: how was I going to create a character who was self-obsessed, while at the same time make him a likeable person? I found the answer in one essential ingredient: naivity. My main character has an open, and almost childlike outlook on life. He doesn’t see any harm in what he does, neither does he see it coming to him.

To some extent, it even makes him endearing. Two other tools helped soften himL humor, and punishment. O boy, does Melchior pay a high price for his ignorance.
This is exactly where the comparison between my main character and DSK ends. DSK is not endearing. There’s is no humor to his story or to him. And DSK gets away with everything. Despite all that, he is obviously still the stuff of stories as the amount of DSK inspired books prove. Depardieu plans to act DSK in a movie and says: “I’m going to play Dominique Strauss-Kahn because I don’t like him. ”
Well, if The Consul Generals Wife becomes a film, my ideal Melchior would be Stephen Fry. And what I hope Fry would say is: “because he’s the man you love to hate. Or hate to love.”

About the Author

Once upon a time, fifteen years ago, I trained as a lawyer. Nowadays some people look at me in confusion when I tell them I was a lawyer. I never ask why this puzzles them.

As a child, I moved around a lot. Or—let me put it this way: was moved around a lot (my father was a diplomat). I lived in Senegal, the Philippines, England, Ghana and the US, to name a few. My stories will therefore often build on issues of identity and belonging in today’s global world. I currently live in Amsterdam, which I find is a great base from which to travel. Apparently, there’s a name for people like me: Third Culture Kid (TCKid). But I much prefer ‘writer’.

Why did I move away from law? As the story tends to go: we all have our set-backs, and these set-backs often smake you rethink choices. In 1999, I took the plunge and started working for film production companies within various capacities. Legal counsel, script development, production supervisor, executive assistant and so on. Slowly but surely I moved towards (screen)writing. 2001 marked a turning point when a play of mine was staged during a festival. I then went on to co-write a screenplay for a feature film, Adrenaline, which was released in Benelux cinemas in 2003.

In the years that followed, my son was born (2006). He is a magnificent little being. Meanwhile, I kept writing away. This resulted in my debut novel Sandblasted, which was published in 2007. It is set in Curaçao and was listed for the Dutch debutant award.

The Consul General’s Wife is my second novel (published in June 2010). The original Dutch novel was downloaded almost 70,000 times in Holland. It is now available in English. As mobi for Kindle on amazon, and as ePub for iPad/iPhone!

The Brazilian rights to The Consul General’s Wife have been bought by Livros de Safra. It will be released in Brazil next year.