Book review: Hard Copy by Fien Veldman

Friday, June 14, 2024 Permalink

Hard Copy by Fien Veldman is a very hard book to describe. It’s been translated from Dutch by Hester Velmans and I find it difficult to critique translations… because you don’t know how much of the writing style (whether good or bad) can be attributed to the writer or translator. Here for example, some of the phrasing is exquisite and I wonder if the original is equally as mesmerising? Having said that, there’s something about this book that felt just out of reach. Was there a metaphor I was missing? Was I taking everything too literally? Was Veldman’s style – by not giving our lead character (and most others) – a name and obliquely hinting at backstories before getting into them, simply too esoteric for me?

Book review: Hard Copy by Fien VeldmanHard Copy
by Fien Veldman, Hester Velmans
Published by Head of Zeus
on 06/06/2024
Source: NetGalley
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 1035906449
Pages: 256
four-stars
Goodreads

A customer service assistant spends her long workdays printing letters. Her one friend is the printer and, in the dark confines of her office, she begins to open up to him, talking about her fears, her past, her hopes and dreams.

To her, it seems like a beautiful friendship is blossoming. To her boss, it seems like she's losing her mind.

Diagnosed with burnout and placed on leave, she faces severance and - worse - separation from her beloved printer. But she's not about to give up on her only friend without a fight. And, it turns out, neither is he...

I couldn’t quite get a read on our (nameless) lead character. I figured initially that she had her quirks and she tells us as much, but then she seems far more ‘normal’ than I expected; relatively socially active but just prefers keeping to herself at work. She’s got a complicated past which she slowly shares with us – albeit in a stilted rather than fluid way.

I had assumed from the backcover blurb that her relationship with the office printer was going to be very weird. And though she has more than a usual attachment, it’s easily explained and quite understandable.

Anyway, the way I see it, since the human heart beats only by the grace of tiny electric shocks, we too are machines. Human, animal, thing: they’re all arbitrary distinctions….

… Why do people assume that there’s only one reality, and why do we all have to submit to it? 45% through novel

In essence, our lead character talks to her printer almost as if she’s talking to herself (I was reminded of people’s habit of sharing thoughts on social media… not expecting a two-way interaction, something I do given I spend a lot of time alone), and she takes solace in the whirs and sounds made by the printer in response.

Little does she know she’s closer to the truth than she realises. Because it gets even weirder as we’re introduced to a new narrator… or perhaps not. Given the rise of AI and the like god only knows what other animals or ‘things’ (who are unable to communicate with us) are capable of.

I initially got bogged down in trying to work if there was some deeper (metaphorical) meaning here, such as the missing work package that is dismaying our lead character for much of the first part of the novel. No one else other than her seems to care about it, but she seems to feels judged by her colleagues for not having collected it. And when she does track it down it’s with someone who seems to receive A LOT of missing packages and seemingly doles them out as they see fit.

Eventually however I decided to do what I do best and viewed this at a more literal level, rather than seeking nuances that might not be there.

And in that vein, this is ostensibly a beautifully-written narrative about a woman put on stress leave and then furloughed along with some colleagues. That said, this is more about the character and the live is she currently living, it’s about her loneliness and how she punishes herself, continuing¬† to let her past influence her present life.

Life is only interesting if you can share it with someone. I never used to understand why people were so obsessed with relationships, but that was before I had one of my own. People used to say to me, ‘Wait until you have someone,’ and I’d want to strangle them. Now it seems they were right. Without my printer, half the world no longer exists.¬† 45% through novel

I absolutely loved the writing in this book. Initially it felt overwhelming… there was so much detail, so much contemplation of the world around our protagonist, but I became enchanted by it. By our narrators’ thoughts and perceptions. And yes… I did mean to use the plural version there because (as I mentioned) our nameless office worker is joined by another narrator part-way through this book. The switch might not have worked, but it did. This would have been a 4.5 star read for me but something about the end made me feel a little disenfranchised, though I can’t clearly articulate why.

Hard Copy by Fien Veldman was published in its original language (Dutch) in 2023 and was published by Head of Zeus (Bloomsbury) in early June 2024.

I received an electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

four-stars

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