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The Safekeep

LIST PRICE $28.99

About The Book

“Remarkable…Compelling…Fine and taut…Indelible” —The New York Times • “Mesmerizing and shockingly good…I was utterly blown away.” —Miranda Cowley Heller, author of The Paper Palace • “A brilliant debut, as multifaceted as a gem.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) • “Moving, unnerving, and deeply sexy.” —Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with the Pearl Earring • “Fans of Patricia Highsmith and Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen will find much to admire here.”—Vulture

An exhilarating, twisted tale of desire, suspicion, and obsession between two women staying in the same house in the Dutch countryside during the summer of 1961—a powerful exploration of the legacy of WWII and the darker parts of our collective past.

A house is a precious thing...

It is 1961 and the rural Dutch province of Overijssel is quiet. Bomb craters have been filled, buildings reconstructed, and the war is truly over. Living alone in her late mother’s country home, Isabel knows her life is as it should be—led by routine and discipline. But all is upended when her brother Louis brings his graceless new girlfriend Eva, leaving her at Isabel’s doorstep as a guest, to stay for the season.

Eva is Isabel’s antithesis: she sleeps late, walks loudly through the house, and touches things she shouldn’t. In response, Isabel develops a fury-fueled obsession, and when things start disappearing around the house—a spoon, a knife, a bowl—Isabel’s suspicions begin to spiral. In the sweltering peak of summer, Isabel’s paranoia gives way to infatuation—leading to a discovery that unravels all Isabel has ever known. The war might not be well and truly over after all, and neither Eva—nor the house in which they live—are what they seem.

Mysterious, sophisticated, sensual, and infused with intrigue, atmosphere, and sex, The Safekeep is a brilliantly plotted and provocative debut novel you won’t soon forget.

Excerpt

Chapter 1 1
ISABEL FOUND A BROKEN PIECE of ceramic under the roots of a dead gourd. Spring had brought a shock of frost, a week of wet snow, and now—at the lip of summer—the vegetable garden was shrinking into itself. The beans, the radishes, the cauliflower: browned and rotting. Isabel was on her knees, gloved hands and a stringed hat, removing the dying things. The shard nicked through her glove, pierced a little hole.

It wasn’t a wound and it didn’t bleed. Isabel took off her glove and stretched the skin of her palm tight, looking for a puncture. There was none, only a sting of pain that left quickly.

Back at the house she washed the piece and held it in watery hands. Blue flowers along the inch of a rim, the suggestion of a hare’s leg where the crockery had broken. It had once been a plate, which was part of a set—her mother’s favorite: the good chinaware, for holidays, for guests. When Mother was alive the set was kept in a glass vitrine in the dining room and no one was allowed to handle it. It had been years since her passing and the plates were still kept behind the closed doors, unused. On the rare occasion when Isabel’s brothers visited, Isabel would set the table using everyday plates and Hendrik would try to pry open the vitrine and say, “Isa, Isa, come now, what’s the point of having good things if you can’t touch them?” And Isabel would answer: “They are not for touching. They are for keeping.”

There was no explanation for the broken piece, for where it had come from and why it had been buried. None of Mother’s plates had ever gone missing. Isabel knew this and still she checked now. The set was as it had been left: a deck of plates, bowls, a little milk jug. In the middle of each one—three hares, chasing one another in a circle.

She took the piece with her on the train to Den Haag the next day, wrapped in brown paper. Hendrik’s car was parked outside the restaurant when she arrived, and he was at the wheel: windows down, smoking. Rubbing a thumb into his eye, looking like he was having a conversation with himself over something, a disagreement. His hair was longer than she liked it. She bent down and said, “Hello,” and he startled and knocked his elbow and said, “Jesus Christ, Isa.”

She got in the car next to him and kept her purse in her lap. He sighed out smoke and leaned over, kissed her three times—once on each cheek, and one more for good measure.

“You’re early,” she said.

He said, “That’s a nice hat.”

She touched it. “Yes.” She’d worried over it, leaving the house. It was bigger than what she usually wore. It had a bright-green ribbon. “How are you, then?”

“Oh, you know.” He ashed his cigarette out the window, leaned back. “Sebastian’s been talking about going home.”

Isabel touched her hat once more, her nape. She pushed a bobby pin further into place. Hendrik had called recently to tell her as much: Sebastian’s mother’s health taking a turn for the worse, Sebastian wanting to visit her. Sebastian wanting Hendrik to come with him. Isabel had not known what to say of it, and so she said nothing. And so she ignored the information and instead updated him about the state of the garden, about Neelke the maid and how she might be stealing things, about Johan’s disruptive visits that left her nonplussed, and about a recent car bill. Hendrik hung up quickly after that.

“I think I will have to go with him,” he continued, not looking at her. “I can’t let him go alone, I can’t—”

“I found this,” she interrupted, and took the wrapped package from her purse. Opened it for him, still in her palm. “Buried in the garden. Under one of the gourds.”

He considered her for a moment, confused. Then, with a quick blink, a breath, took the piece and inspected it. Turned it over. “One of Mother’s plates?”

“It is, isn’t it?”

“All right,” he said cautiously, and gave it back. On the other side of the street, a couple argued while they walked. The woman tried to hush the conversation, the man only raised his voice in response.

Isabel continued on a held breath: “I think Neelke—”

“Isabel.” Hendrik turned to face her now, cigarette still in hand. The space between them clouded with smoke. “There’s not going to be any maids left in the province if you keep on firing all of them with some imaginary ideas of—”

“Imaginary! I have been stolen from. They have—”

“Once,” he said. “That happened once, and she was so young, Isa, come on. Haven’t you been young?” She’d looked away from him and he ducked to catch her eye. He was putting on his funny voice. “Haven’t I, once?”

They were not old now. She was nearly thirty, and he was younger still. The youngest of them all. She wrapped the piece back into the paper and put it back in her purse.

“And besides,” he said. “It could’ve been in that ground a long time. Maybe Louis accidentally broke a plate once and panicked and—”

“Mother would’ve noticed,” Isabel said.

Hendrik wasn’t taking her seriously. “Well, I mean, who knows how the house was kept before we moved in.”

“What do you mean, before?”

“Before we moved in. Someone else might’ve broken a plate. There were always only five of them, no? What happened to the sixth?”

“Those are—Hendrik. Those are Mother’s plates.”

“No, no. The house came with the…” He gestured vaguely. “Crockery. Chairs.”

She had been eleven when they moved to the east of the country, and Louis—the oldest—thirteen. Hendrik was small for his age at ten, a hollow-cheeked and melancholy boy. Isabel hadn’t thought he remembered much of those early days in the house. They mostly spoke of what came before: their childhood in Amsterdam, Father before he got sick, the smell of the city in December, a toy train that went round and round.

But he was right somehow. An odd angle of a thought that hadn’t struck her before—they’d moved into a finished house, a full house. Nearly everything laid out: the sheets, the pots, the vases in the windowsills.

“But it was Mother’s…” Isabel trailed off. Their mother had loved the hare’s pattern. The house was full of it: hare figurines on sills, hares on the tiled back of the hearth.

Hendrik said, “We used to have—Oh, you remember, in Amsterdam, we had the plates with the bluebells. No, I think it belonged to—that woman Uncle Karel was married to back then, no? Didn’t she get the house ready for us?”

“Uncle Karel was never married,” Isabel said.

“Oh, briefly. Tall. Birthmark on her cheek. Would say hello with a yodel.”

“No.”

“She was with us for a while, before Mother joined. You really don’t remember?”

She didn’t remember a woman. She didn’t remember the day of their arrival, or anyone showing them around, telling them where to go, where to sleep, why the beds were already made, already—

“Don’t obsess over this,” Hendrik said. “Isa? Don’t do that.”

She was pinching the skin on the back of her hand. She stopped. Cleared her throat, touched her hat a third time. “Well, maybe Louis knows.”

“Right,” Hendrik said, like the thought of Louis knowing anything was entertaining. “He’s bringing a girl, did he tell you?”

Louis usually brought girls to their dinners. The last time they’d had a meal with just the three of them had been accidental: Louis’s date stood him up. Isabel had thought, Good riddance, and then found that Louis—when not in the company of relative strangers—in fact had little to say to his siblings. It was a long and stilted evening. Hendrik got very drunk, first loud and then very quiet. She and Louis had had to deliver him home: Hendrik lolling in the back of Louis’s car, throwing up in the gutter outside his building. Sebastian had leaned out the window in a dressing gown and called down, Jesus, what have you two done to him?

“I reserved for three,” she told Hendrik. It was the principle of the thing, the fact that Louis yet again hadn’t told her he’d be bringing a girl. Hadn’t called her. He never called her.

“I know you did.”

“It’s bad manners.”

“Hmm,” Hendrik agreed.

“Is it the same one as last time? I didn’t like her. Her neck was too wide.”

Hendrik laughed at this. Isa hadn’t meant it as a joke. He told her, “No. He’s bringing a new one,” and Isabel tsk’d and Hendrik smiled, closed-mouthed. “The love of his life this time, I’m told.”

“Really.”

“Really.” The cigarette was finished. People were coming in and out of the restaurant, guided by a server in a buttoned suit. Hendrik said, “Shall we?”

“He’s not inside yet.”

“I know.” Hendrik rolled up the window. “But shall we?”

They went. It still took another half hour before Louis showed up, during which Hendrik smoked three more cigarettes, drank two beers, chattered idly, and then started up again about whether or not he should join Sebastian on his trip to Paris, to see the ill mother. It would be an indefinite stay. The doctors weren’t overly confident. He said this and kept eyeing Isabel in a way that felt like he knew she didn’t want to hear it and still he wanted her to tell him: to either go or not go, to give him some sort of blessing. Isabel could not. Isabel said, “You must do what you want to do.” She had a glass of water. She drank from it.

Hendrik said, “Would you be all right? If I were gone for a while?”

“Is that how you think I live? Breathlessly awaiting your next visit?”

“Isabel.”

“You’re gone now, too. You don’t live at home, might as well be in Paris, really. Might as well—” Isabel wanted to say more but stopped herself. She had never been to Paris. She knew it was far. She knew that when their mother was sick, all Hendrik had had to do was take a single train home, and that he rarely did.

Hendrik touched her arm. “Never mind,” he said. Then he picked up a new thread, a cheerful “So never mind that for now, anyway tell me something new, something exciting. Tell me how’s your man, Isa, tell me about that.”

It brought her up short. “My—what?”

“Oh, you know. Old neighbor Johan.”

A terrible kick of a feeling—as though she’d been caught in embarrassment: showing too much skin, speaking out of turn. She ignored the heat at the base of her neck and answered with a “Johan is certainly not my…”

Hendrik’s gaze drifted, refocused on the entrance: Louis had arrived. He was having a stern conversation with the maître d’, leaning too far over the front desk, gesturing his argument. His new girl stood to the side, looking embarrassed and nervous, a shaky smile stuck on tightly. She had a violently peroxided bob, a badly made dress—the bodice had been sewn too tight and the hems were messy. Her face was very red. She was pretty in a way men thought women ought to be pretty.

“Good lord,” Isabel said, and Hendrik snorted. Louis looked up just then, to nod at them in indication to the manager. Hendrik waved good-naturedly. The couple made their way over, a fourth chair in tow, and the first thing Louis said was, “They said they didn’t have enough chairs, can you believe how—”

“I reserved for three,” Isabel said. Louis sat down in a huff, arranging his dinner jacket, and his girl hovered awkwardly—did an uneasy dance with the waiter who’d come with the extra chair, his trying to get the seat pushed under her, her not understanding, fumbling.

“They’re a restaurant,” Louis said. “They should have spare chairs.”

“Hello, Louis, welcome,” Hendrik said. The table stilled a moment. Then Louis answered with a sound, a short and frustrated sound, and got back out of his chair: leaned over to kiss Isabel, shake Hendrik’s hand. He smelled strongly of cologne. His hair was slicked back. His tie done tightly against the apple of his throat.

He said, “Hello. This is Eva.”

The girl rose to shake hands. She tipped over the flower piece with her chest, said “Oh no,” and tried to right it, accidentally pulled at the tablecloth when she sat back down. All the cutlery gave a shake.

Hendrik said: “Lovely to meet you.”

“Oh, it’s so good to meet you, both of you. I’ve heard so much, and I’ve been telling Louis how I’ve been wanting to meet you, haven’t I, Louis? Haven’t I been saying how much I—”

“She has,” Louis confirmed. He was inspecting the menu.

“So you two have known each other for—” Hendrik started, and Eva jumped back in with an “Oh, a little while but it feels like forever, doesn’t it, Louis? I always say, I always say how it’s only been a few months but I’m sure we must’ve known each other in a past life because I’m so certain we’re—”

“Shall we order?” Isabel said, waving down a passing waiter. Louis had kept them waiting. She wasn’t used to eating so late in the evening, was hungry, all the more irritated for it.

Eva, caught midbreath, kept her smile intact. She turned even redder. “All the same,” she said, and then trailed off, didn’t finish her thought. When it was her turn to order she fussed and said she’d never heard of half the words on the menu, and leaned into Louis and said, “Oh, but you order, darling. You’re always so smart about these things anyway.”

They went with the scallops. When the food arrived Eva asked what scallops were, and Louis meant to answer just as Hendrik jumped in and said, “Oh, but guess.”

Eva seemed caught out but then guessed, quietly: a potato of some sort?

No one said anything a moment, and then Hendrik jostled as though he’d been kicked under the table. He put his elbows on the table and asked Eva what it was that she did—if she studied, or worked, or lounged happily about all day—and Eva, in reply, cycled through a new flush, took her time in answering: putting down her cutlery, wiping her hands on her napkin, draining the last of her glass. It was her second, Isabel noted, or third. “Well,” Eva said. And, “Well, you see—” And then a tumble of words: “Oh, must we talk work? So boring.”

Isabel looked away, out the window. It was only the reflection of the restaurant, echoed back at them in muted shadows. She said, “You don’t seem the type who can afford to be bored of it.”

Louis said her name once, a dagger: “Isabel.”

Isabel met his gaze and offered no apology.

Louis said, “Eva is being humble. Aren’t you?” He didn’t wait for Eva to reply, answered for her: “Eva was a typist for Van Dongen. She stopped, recently, when ah, an… ah—”

“An aunt,” Eva supplied.

“An aunt, yes, you see, passed on a sum of money—”

“Yes,” said Eva, breathless.

“So this clever girl here is quite self-sufficient, Isabel. I don’t care to think about what you were implying.”

Isabel retreated into a sharp silence. The conversation continued—stopped and stuttered. Hendrik pushed at the tension, teased in a way that went over Eva’s head. Louis clearly noted it, then ignored it: with every irritation he turned to Eva and immediately went soft with a wet-eyed look, an easing of the mouth. Isabel thought the expression made him look stupid. Louis had also brought a girl to their mother’s funeral, years ago. She was in all the pictures now, and no one remembered her name. Not even Louis, the one time Isabel asked him. She’d been making an album.

When they were leaving the restaurant, Isabel excused herself to the bathroom. She hadn’t had much wine—it always made her heavy-headed, mean—but the little bit she’d had, in the humid evening, settled over her like a fever. She wet a paper towel, pressed it to her neck.

Eva came in right then. Isabel threw away the towel. Eva didn’t go into any of the cubicles: she leaned back against the counter, clumsy. She was drunker than Isabel. The crooked hemming of her dress showed even more like this. The lights gleaned brightly off the yolky shine of her hair. Isabel thought she could almost smell the peroxide.

“Tonight was lovely,” Eva said.

“Mm,” Isabel said, washing her hands.

“I really have been wanting to meet you, you know. You most of all. Louis has told me so much. You live in the old family home, right? In the house where you three grew—”

“I did not invite you here tonight.”

Eva was caught in a breath, mouth moving a moment. There was a sheen of sweat under the line of her collar. Isabel was annoyed by the very act of looking at her right then. Annoyed by the tight seams of her dress, the dark roots of her hair, the painted eyebrows. How humiliating, she thought, to have a bad performance show so plainly.

Then Eva laughed. A single, humorless laugh. “Well!” she said. “Don’t you speak your mind!”

Isabel dried her hands. “I don’t mean to be rude.” This was a lie. “But you will be gone soon.” She made sure it came through clearly: “He will be bored of you, and I’ll never hear of you again.”

It didn’t have the desired effect. “Oh,” Eva said. She tilted her head. “We’ll see.” It wasn’t the same voice she’d used before, not the same voice that laughed nervously over every exchange, not the same voice that apologized—oh sorry, oh I’m so silly I’m sorry—when knocking over a glass, scraping a knife too loudly on the plate.

Isabel looked at her and caught a flash of something in her expression—a fissure, something, but it was gone very quickly and immediately Isabel couldn’t say whether she’d imagined it. If it had been there at all.

Isabel made to leave. Eva didn’t move from her perch, watched her go, gaze steady. Keen. Outside on the street it was hot and wet all at once, a misty drizzle in the air. The sea pushed into the streets, the smell of salt. Louis asked, “Where is Eva?” And Isabel said, “Am I responsible for her now?”

Hendrik hooked his arm into hers. She held on. Louis said, “You were terrible tonight. You were terrible to her.”

“Oh, pooh,” Hendrik said.

Louis took a step closer, trying not to raise his voice. “What will it take to get you two to—”

But then Eva joined them again. She was fixing her hat. It was very red. Her lipstick had been redone. It was noticeable now, how short she was in comparison: the three of them were all tall, all narrow. “What did I miss?” she said, and the voice was back again: higher than before, lilting. She seemed to think it made her softer. It didn’t, Isabel thought. It didn’t at all.

Louis sweetened at her presence and turned from them. “Nothing,” he said. “What could possibly happen without you around?”

She liked that. Went peach-cheeked, leaned into him, then quickly insisted the night could not yet be over—it couldn’t possibly be over! “Come over for drinks, oh please, oh, you must!”

“To—Louis’s?” Hendrik asked. Louis had a sparse, small room in a second-floor apartment near his work. It was old and badly kept, a moldy shower, and he shared the house with a suspicious little man with a heavy brow and rimmed glasses. But the rent was covered by his engineering company, and Louis was often abroad. Isabel never came by for anything other than to pick him up, drop him off.

“Oh, it was a dreary place, wasn’t it? But I’ve helped him redecorate, haven’t I, darling? And it’s really very lovely now, oh, you should come by, if only to see.”

“You’ve helped Louis redecorate.” Hendrik said it like a punch line. Eva didn’t notice, only confirmed enthusiastically. Isabel didn’t want to go. The night had gone on for long enough. She said as much, claiming train times, and how dark it was getting, but then Hendrik leaned in and whispered a wry Oh come on don’t you want to see her decorations?

It was decided: they would go. One drink, only the one. “Oh, of course only one,” Hendrik said.

It was a short walk down the boulevard. Louis lived nearby. There was no reason for him and his girl to have been late to the restaurant, no reason other than not having left the house on time, and why would they not leave on time? An answer came to Isabel, a sharp, unpleasant answer—a flash of an image, of a bed. The things people did alone in rooms together. She looked away from it physically: turned her face to the sea. The setting sun was a distant spill of light behind a blanket of gray. The sea pushed in and in, roiling and then pulling away, roiling.

Then Eva paused, fell into step beside her, said she needed a moment away from “the boys”—some sort of conspiratorial word. Isabel scowled at it. They walked onto Louis’s street. The wind calmed here. Taller buildings, little gardens. Eva began a soft prattle, Isabel’s speech back at the restaurant seemingly forgotten. She was not saying anything much, just commenting on the gardens, posing her statements as questions: Weren’t the begonias blooming nicely? And shouldn’t she just love a garden of her own? It seemed like this was a question for Isabel, but it wasn’t, immediately followed up with a quick and distracted sigh of: “Oh, but I would just be terrible at it, wouldn’t I? I would just be terrible at having a garden, I’d kill just about anything I’d try to grow, I just know it.”

“Then don’t get a garden,” Isabel said. Eva pursed her lips into a hard line.

Upstairs, when they entered Louis’s room, Hendrik squeezed Isabel’s arm harshly—a message. Out loud he only said, a creak in his voice, “Oh, how lovely!”

It was gaudy. Eva had hung red gauzy fabrics from the ceiling to drape over the bed like a canopy, pulled them through to the rest of the room: over the cabinet, over the chair. There were too many carpets on the floor, overlapping. On the wall she’d installed several clumsy paintings of abstracted faces.

“Aren’t they nice?” she said. “A friend of mine painted them. A secret genius, wouldn’t you say?”

“Oh,” Hendrik said, nodded excitedly, squeezed Isabel harder. “Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.”

There was not really anywhere to sit. Louis took the armchair. Hendrik and Isabel sat on the edge of the bed. Eva brought a stool from the kitchen, and then drinks, all poured in assorted glasses. They all stayed in their tightly stretched silence. Eva’s furious blush was back. Louis was flipping through a book he’d left by the chair’s leg. Then Eva said, “Music!” and went to put on a record. Too loud at first, she had to go back to lower the volume. Then, reinstalled, she began with a—

“So Louis tells me all three of you grew up in—”

“Do you live here now?” Hendrik interrupted, looking around him. “In this room? With Louis?”

“Oh, I,” she started, and Louis said, “We’re looking for a new place.” And Hendrik said, “Together?” And Louis said, “What of it, together? Of all people who are you to—”

Hendrik turned sharp. “?‘Of all people,’ what does that mean?”

“Not so loud,” Isabel said, looking at the wall, and Louis huffed and said, “Maurice is not home, Isa, you are saved from social embarrassment,” and Isabel, not wanting to reply to the comment but still wanting to push back, said, “I don’t like that man,” at which point Eva jumped in with an “Oh really?”

They all looked at her. Isabel said, “I don’t.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“I just don’t.” Isabel wasn’t often asked to explain her likes, her dislikes. Isabel was not often asked anything at all, between the house and the shops and weekly calls with Hendrik. Who was there, to ask her anything? She said, “He acts—suspicious.”

Something glimmered in the way Eva considered her now. That flash: there it was. She was sitting up straighter, just a fraction. She said, “Suspicious how?”

“He skulks.” One time Isabel had waited for Louis in the hallway, and Maurice had stood there with her the whole time: eyes blank on a bit of the wall just above her shoulder.

Skulks?” Eva said it like she had never heard the word before.

“Oh, who cares about Maurice,” Louis said, louder than the both of them, and Isabel blinked. Took a breath, looked away. Sat up straighter now, too. Eva went to fiddle with the music again. Her blush was gone. The back of her neck looked brown against the yellow of her hair.

When Hendrik and Isabel left, she was small and saccharine again: standing by the door, short and leaned into Louis, arm around his waist, waving, waving. Saying, “So lovely! So lovely! We’ll see you soon!”

When she’d leaned in to say goodbye to Isabel earlier, she’d briefly steadied herself with a hand to Isabel’s waist. Squeezed, quick but sure. Isabel felt the weight of that touch as they walked back down the boulevard—pressed her own hand to it. To Hendrik she said, “I don’t like her.”

Hendrik laughed very loudly. “Didn’t you, now? I hadn’t a clue.”

“No, I mean,” she began, reordered her thoughts. “No, I mean, I think—there’s something, I don’t think she’s—”

“God, the gauze,” Hendrik said, lips tight around a cigarette, trying to light it against the sea wind. Night had fallen in full. The sea hissed on the beach below. “I thought I was going to cry, oh my God, and Louis just let her—the carpets! I can’t believe it. He is never going to live this down, he is never going to—”

“Wait,” Isabel said, but it was very quiet, and carried away by the wind. Hendrik didn’t hear it. He continued on, listing moments: When she—! And did Isabel see when she—!

Isabel thought of the quick widening of Eva’s eyes when she said, Oh really? The flare of her nostrils. The line of her spine. That pinch of goodbye at Isabel’s waist. How Louis went a little slack when Eva touched him. Don’t obsess over this, Hendrik had said earlier that night. He said it at least once every time they met. Over the phone, too, in his letters: to not obsess over money, to not obsess over the way the maid cleans the windows, to not obsess over Johan and his intentions, the way he stared, the way he put his hand to Isabel’s waist—fingers fanned out.

Isabel worried the skin on the back of her hand. Hendrik noticed, midspeech, pulled her hand away, took it in his instead. He wavered in his walk, unsteady. They were nearing his car.

“I’ll drive you,” she said.

“Noooo.” He leaned his head into her shoulder. “I’m fine!”

“I’m driving you.”

Isa,” he said. “Your train! Your train times!”

“I’ll take the tram to the station.”

“Sister,” he said now, trying to wrap his arms around her, locking her at the elbows. She didn’t like this kind of touch, the kind that restricted, and he knew it, did it with all the purpose in the world: too heavy, too tight. Drunk. “Och, sister sister sister!” She struggled against him. He laughed some more, let her go.

She drove him home. He tried to get her to come up with him, to come say hello to Sebastian, come have a last drink to end the night. It had been so long since she’d seen Sebastian. He said this with shiny-wet eyes, said it quietly, seriously. His hold on her wrist was harsh. The light was on upstairs: Sebastian had waited up for him.

She said she would go home. Hendrik nodded and nodded and bared his teeth in an almost-smile. He promised to call. Promised to come by with Sebas at some point this summer, before they maybe left for Paris: they could stay for a few days. Swim somewhere. Take a trip somewhere. It had been so long, he repeated himself, since Isabel had seen Sebastian.

On the train back to Zwolle she took out the small packet, unwrapped it. Considered the found piece. The china was thin. Blue, white, blue. The train lights flickered with each bump in the rails. Home, when she arrived, welcomed her with relief. There you are, said the dim light in the kitchen, left on for comfort. I’ve waited up for you, said the rattle of key in the door. The hallway had kept within it a chill, but upstairs Neelke had left a few embers to burn in Isabel’s hearth. Isabel crouched and held out her hands to the heat.

She tried to recall her first night at the house, young and scared and sirens wailing at a dark distance. She tried to recall what had been there already—what things, what shapes, what vases and paintings and embroidery to the edges of which sheets. She recalled nothing. She recalled the thump of a knock and Hendrik’s cold little foot under the blankets and a feeling like a fist on the inside of her throat.

A window slammed shut across the hallway. Isabel startled and rushed toward the sound. It had come from her mother’s old room—she had aired it out earlier in the day. She had left the window open. Nothing was the matter, nothing had been broken, only a picture frame had been blown face down on the bedside table.

The photograph had been taken that first summer after the war. Her mother, reedy in a long skirt, sitting on the bench out in the garden, the two firs rising proud behind her. She sat neatly, looked straight into the lens.

Isabel put the picture back in its place and righted it.

About The Author

Photograph by Roosmarijn Broersen

Yael van der Wouden is a writer and a teacher. She lives in Utrecht, Netherlands, and The Safekeep is her first novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster (May 28, 2024)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668034347

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Raves and Reviews

“Quietly remarkable. . . Van der Wouden’s writing is fine and taut. She lasers in on details, and presents unsentimental and intrinsically powerful metaphors. . . I would have liked this book in any case, just for the pleasure of reading it. But the story is resolved in such a bold and tender way that it becomes not merely clever, but indelible.” —Lori Soderlind, The New York Times Book Review

"An absolutely stunning novel. . . The writing is completely beautiful; the plot is brilliant. . . What seems as a quiet story at the beginning reaches a turning point. . . Everything is up for grabs. . . A page-turner.” WAMC

“A beautifully realized book, nearly perfect, as van der Wouden quietly explores the intricate nuances of resentment-hued sibling dynamics, the discovery of desire (and the simultaneous discovery of self), queer relationships at a time when they went unspoken, and the legacy of war and what it might mean to have been complicit in its horrors. . . A brilliant debut, as multifaceted as a gem.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“An impressive debut. I already look forward to Van der Wouden’s next. She can draw characters with nuance, without fear too; she creates and sustains atmospheres deftly, and ultimately delivers a thrilling story.” —The Guardian

“Ms. Van Der Wouden knows how to wring real emotion from her readers, and The Safekeep is the uncommon book that one experiences in an almost physical way.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"This is an intimate novel, closely and brilliantly observed. . . An accomplished debut." —New York Journal of Books

“Moving, unnerving, and deeply sexy.” —Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with the Pearl Earring

“A masterclass in dramatic tension.” —The Bookseller

‘‘The Safekeep is Portrait of a Lady on Fire if Hitchcock had directed it. A stealthy, simmering novel about complicity and the lies we live by.” —Clare Pollard, author of Delphi

"An accomplished debut. . . Van der Wouden’s sensuous writing and flair for drama make this a winner.” —Publishers Weekly

“Fans of Patricia Highsmith and Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen will find much to admire here. Recommended for reading outdoors while eating a ripe pear.” New York Magazine, "22 Books We Can’t Wait to Read This Summer"

“Rife with intrigue. . . . For readers who appreciate introspective fiction and LGBTQ+ coming out stories.” —Booklist

The Safe­keep has the atmos­pher­ics of mid­cen­tu­ry les­bian pulp nov­els, like Isabel Miller’s Patience and Sarah (1969). Van der Wouden cre­ates a dark, unspo­ken, agi­tat­ed world for Isabel and Eva, then pairs it with a plot that is deft and propul­sive. By the end, les­bian­ism is hard­ly the biggest revelation. . . These knot­ty moral ques­tions, com­bined with a tight­ly wound plot, make The Safe­keep an engross­ing read.” —Jewish Book Council

“[A] swirling, atmospheric debut from Yael Van De Wouden. . . A talented and upcoming writer.” —Our Culture, 10 Books We’re Excited to Read in May 2024

"A novel of redemption as much as revenge, The Safekeep has the pacing and twists of a thriller.” BookPage, starred review

The Safekeep is a dream of a novel—mesmerizing and shockingly good—it lulls you with the lyrical beauty of its words and then slams you awake with its raw passion and rage. Part silent scream, part breathless love story—I was utterly blown away.” —Miranda Cowley Heller, author of The Paper Palace

The Safekeep is thrilling: a riveting historical reconciliation and an impossible yet inevitable love story. Superbly wrought—serious, elegant, sexy, devastating.” —Julia May Jonas, author of Vladimir

"The Safekeep does not pull a single punch. This novel is equal parts filth, fear and fury. A narrative that draws you down its spiral until you’re dizzy, and characters that tackle you to the floor and leave you sweating." —Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta, authors of The View Was Exhausting

"An astonishingly skillful debut, The Safekeep manages the rare trick of being both gripping and intimate. A twisting, elegant, intriguing story about the secrets we hide in our homes and hearts—and how it only takes one person to unlock the past." —Joanna Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Whalebone Theatre

The Safekeep is a beautiful book, highly charged, tense, shocking and heartbreaking in equal measure. . . One of those rare books that feels as if it’s been there all along, waiting to be given a voice. And what a voice this is.” —Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

“Surprising, chilling, and electric. The Safekeep is simply a fantastic work of literature.” —Alice Winn, author of In Memoriam

The Safekeep is a slow-burning, deceptively austere novel, whose subtle, crafty questions and lovely, lyric style will follow the reader long after its conclusion.” —Shelf-Awareness

“Haunting and exquisitely poignant. . . A wonderful novel.” —Claire Fuller, author of Unsettled Ground

"The Safekeep starts out as one thing and then becomes something utterly unexpected. It’s a slow burn of a book whose power creeps up on you suddenly, featuring fascinating characters, stunning prose, and lots of sex. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel." —Adrienne Brodeur, author of Little Monsters

“A compelling and suspenseful tale that explores concepts of home, love and history.” —Hadassah Magazine

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