Sergeant Bertrand by Aleksandr Skorobogatov in Knack Focus ★★★★★

Marnix Verplancke

Nikolaj is sitting day in day out in his flat in Moscow, drinking vodka and fantasising about all the possible ways in which his beautiful wife Vera is cheating on him. Regularly, he is being visited by the dodgy Sergeant Bertrand, who lends him a listening ear and at the same time stimulates his psychic collapse.

Sergeant Bertrand is the debut novel of the Belorussian author Aleksandr Skorobogatov who has been living in Antwerp for the past 25 years. A year ago he received a lot of positive attention with his novel Portrait of an Unknown Girl, reason enough for Cossee to republish this novel from 1991. Republish – because it has already been published in the Netherlands in 1992 but passed largely unnoticed.

That is incomprehensible seeing that Sergeant Bertrand is an extraordinarily fascinating and accomplished novel that scillfully intertwines reality, madness, dream and delirium.

Does Bertrand, inciting Nikolaj to brutality, really exist or is he the product of the phantasies of an alcoholic for example? Skorobogatov based his novel in the Russian literary tradition, that takes its topics to the absurd. Jealousy seems to be that core topic of the novel, even though that might be a false impression and Sergeant Bertrand could just as well be treating the topic of grieving over the loss of a child.

Marnix Verplancke, Knack Focus★★★★★