Bob Rigter’s novels 


Jazz in de Oostzee (1995, ed. Bodoni, 224 pp. ISBN 90-5526-039-8)

Jazz in de Oostzee (1995) is about an outsider and jazz musician, sometimes hilariously out of place both in the academic world and in the jazz scene. The novel has the tragicomic aspects of the blues. All the jazz episodes in Jazz in de Oostzee are 100% historical. The rest is fiction. Some of the historical episodes involve adventures with Dutch jazz musicians, with ex-Duke Ellington trumpeter Nelson Williams, and the tenor players Ben Webster, Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon.

The frame of the story is a trip to Denmark on board a sailing yacht with a friend and two women, but no jazz. The main character looks back on disastrous and hilarious episodes of his life as an outsider, including experiences as a child during the German occupation. While sailing from harbour to harbour, he appears to be pursued by a mysterious yacht sailed - he thinks - by the ghost of the ‘Man of Tollund’, who seems to have risen from the dead. Or has the main character descended in the underworld of his own mind, to bring back the love of his life? And, if so, who is his Euridice? 

One of the many reviews of Jazz in de Oostzee ends with a sentence in English: “Goed geblazen, yeah man, preach me the blues. This sure ain’t no novel for no squares, man.” (Martin Schouten in De Volkskrant). For more information and Dutch reviews, click Jazz in de Oostzee.


Langarm (1999, ed. Element, 192 pp. ISBN 90-5689-065-4)

When, as a child, you got too close to the water’s edge, you were warned against Langarm, a monster lurking under water. Langarm was waiting to grab you, and then you would never come back. Later, you realised that the monster had not lurked under water but in the mind. Still later came the realisation that Langarm is a monster manifesting itself in society in a variety of shapes and forms. Official sources deny its existence.

The scene of the novel is laid in the watery region of North Holland with its many polders, canals, locks and bridges, in 1943. A boy of nearly ten years old and a beautiful, sensual woman are caught in between Germans, collaborators and resistance. All of the eight main characters in the novel live in their own version of reality. Communication across the boundaries of their various worlds appears to fail dismally. None of the characters ultimately understands the hilarious and horrible events to which their actions contribute. Langarm appears to be afoot for everyone. The question is who can escape from his territory. Is the boy an all too young Orpheus and the woman a warm Euridice?

In any chapter that bears the name of a particular character, that character’s view of reality is reflected. In other chapters, exactly the same dialogues and events are interpreted in the minds of other characters. There is also a satirical chapter with a newspaper’s version of some of these events. 

Langarm’s historical background ranges from the atrocities committed by the Dutch on Sumatra round 1900, through the depression of the 30-ties, the flight of the queen while Dutch soldiers were being shot to pieces, the massive deportation of jewish people from The Netherlands and the ‘Englandspiel’, in which resistance fighters dropped over Holland were invariably met by a German reception committee, who knew all about times and places of these droppings. The accumulation of these historical facts in the mind of one of the characters, leads to a literally explosive situation. 

Langarm has characteristics of the blues: innocence, lust, tenderness, cruelty, cowardice, courage, hypocrisy, intelligence and stupidity are inextricably connected in characters and episodes which are at the same time tragic and funny. Ecce homo! As one reader remarked, 'It is a great novel: very beautiful and very horrible'.

Langarm was nominated for a prestigious Dutch/Belgian literary prize: The ECI-prijs voor Schrijvers van Nu 2001. As a result of this nomination, a special hard-cover edition of Langarm was issued by ECI: ISBN 90-5108-304-1. For more information and Dutch reviews, click Langarm.

Vreemd (2006, ed. Nieuw Amsterdam, 127 pp. ISBN 90 468 00385).

The story of a one-night stand in the various meanings of the term. A rich lady in a seaside hotel on the Dutch coast is fascinated by the bass player, senses the parallels between herself and the instrument that he so expertly handles, and ends up spending a night with him. Complications arise when, in bed, the bass player mistakenly answers her sell phone, on which her husband tries to reach her, and mentions his name. Further complications arise when he asks an old baroness who sees him hurriedly changing into jeans in the hotel garage, to return the lady's sell phone at the reception as a lost object. The reader follows the lady and the bass player during the rest of the day. The husband tries to find out who the man was that answered the phone. The old baroness plays a subtle power game. The bass player and his colleague, a mad saxofonist with wild but fascinating ideas about the parallels between music and the universe, travel to their next gig. The events lead to a surprising and devastating end. The book is as tragic as it is hilarious.

Vreemd is a book about love, jazz, loneliness, jealousy, cheating and the circularity of fate. It contains a beautiful portrait of two jazz musicians fending for themselves in precarious circumstances and of the psychology of a lonely woman.

Bob Rigter welcomes invitations to read and discuss his work.