by Renate Dorrestein
Viking Press, 2001
Review by Su Terry on Nov 17th 2001
This is a troubling and often unnerving novel about the not so uncommon
disorder called 'postpartum neurosis.' It is troubling because psychological
postpartum complications are still so common in our society, and it is
so very unnerving because incidents like described in this novel can and
do still occur. One has only to browse through the newspaper to read about
sad cases and tragic outcomes of undiagnosed and untreated postpartum disorders.
Renate Dorrestein's novel, A Heart of Stone is a chilling read.
A Heart of Stone is set in contemporary Holland. Ellen, a forensic
pathologist and single mom-to-be, has returned to her childhood house to
restore it and to await the birth of her first child. The house, however,
is not as empty as it appears. It is filled with the ghosts and memories
of the childhood tragedy that took the lives of her parents and three of
her siblings, and left her a shattered ruin at the age of twelve. As Ellen
flips through an old family photo album, she reflects back upon the year
that she turned twelve and that Ida "the ugliest name I could think of,
Ida rhymed with spider, and if you twisted the letters around and added
a few more, you got diarrhea" was born. The story moves back and forth
between the years before the tragic (1972/3), the years immediately following,
and the present (twenty-five years later). The story is equally filtered
and told through the eyes of Ellen as an innocent child, as a traumatized
youth, and finally, as a medically trained adult about to give birth.
Renate Dorrestein is a best selling Dutch novelist. Beginning her writing
career as a journalist, Dorrestein published her first novel, Outsiders,
in 1983. Since then she has published a number of other novels that won
her the Annie Romein Prize (1993) for originality and recognition as the
runner-up for the Publieksprijs (1997) awarded to the most popular Dutch
author of the year. A Heart of Stone is her first book translated
into the English language and I am sure it will not be the last.
A Heart of Stone is an interesting blend of horror, humor, and
mystery. The reader cannot but be horrified by the abusive actions of Ellen's
mother as she slowly grows more psychotic in her thinking and behavior.
(I was thoroughly frustrated by my own inability to call the police and
child protective services on this woman!) Like a Steven Spielberg movie,
however, Dorrestein blends horror and humor. Ellen and her sibling somehow
manage to live a somewhat normal existence filled with all the laughter
and tomfoolery that childhood can muster. The novel rapidly flies back
and forth between tears and laughter, and occasional blends the two together
as only a child's mind can when trying to grasp the inexplicable. Finally,
there is a tense building of suspense and mystery. The reader knows what
is ultimately coming, but is unsure exactly when it will occur. Like the
members of Ellen's family, there is always a waiting for the other shoe
to fall. There is also a sense of mystery, as characters from Ellen's and
her parent's past move in and out of her new life. I could not help but
wondering if Ellen, in her childhood innocence, had somehow gotten the
facts wrong. What if there was more to the story then Ellen in her naivety
knew? Is there more for her to learn about the crucial event that shaped
her life? There is, but that would be telling! I was kept guessing to the
very last page, so do NOT peek! A Heart of Stone is a hard and painful
read that will make the read laugh, and cry, and gasp.
© 2001 Suzanne Garrison-Terry
Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S.
in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S.
in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University,
and a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological
Seminary. She is currently completing a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual
Direction from Sacred Heart University (July 2001). She is a Licensed
Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor
in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.
Interests in Mental Health: I am interested in the interplay between
psychology and spirituality. My current research focuses on the
role of hormonal fluctuation during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause
as a stimuli for mystical experiences. Through the study of autobiographical
accounts of the mystical experiences of "historically accepted"
female Christian mystics and additional biographical information,
I am analyzing the connection between the onset of mystical experiences
and biological data/symptomology for the potential existence of
hormonal fluctuation or irregularity. If this sounds like an unusual
topic, nota bene how many medieval female mystics began having
"vision" on or about the age of 40!