Frans van der Steg is the village schoolmaster and at the end of each day he tells his class a story, a story about Frans the Red. The stories he tells – well, they are just stories. Today, however, it is so hot, he isn’t in the mood. ‘Why?’ ask the children. ‘I’m waiting for a letter’ is the reply. That evening there is a storm – and through the door blows a letter!
Readers will now know Tonke Dragt’s name from the success of The Letter for the King. There they were transported into a world of chivalry. Here we are in the somewhat topsy-turvy world of the folk and fairytale, where reality and fantasy merge, blurring boundaries between the actual and the imagined. This can make for some awkward moments but under Dragt’s pen is, on the whole, well handled as Frans and the schoolchildren become involved in a search for a treasure both in the story and in real life. Framing the narrative is a song the children sing – The Seven Ways – a dancing, counting song – that gives the author an opportunity to play with the construction of the novel as it builds to a climax . The translation is a delight, providing the slightly old fashioned prose style with a contemporary veneer. However, it is also very wordy slowing the pace of the action. Characters are also ambiguous, as the author plays with the idea that people may have more than one persona. Less immediate than the previous two novels, this is perhaps more of a curiosity – but an enjoyable one.