The Cave


Krabbe , a Dutch writer living in Amsterdam, published a sophisticated horror novel, The Golden Egg, seven years ago, which was made into a movie, The Vanishing. His second novel is likewise a cleverly wrought tale of death and suspense, but it's one that falls outside the ordinary formulas of horror or suspense fiction. It tells the psychologically fraught story of three individuals who meet as adolescents and whose lives intertwine in various ways. The linchpin of the tale is Axel van de Graaf, who from childhood is the kind of unpleasantly charismatic figure who attracts people against their will and better judgment. As a child, Axel is an independent daredevil; as an adult, he becomes successful in the violent underworld of international drug smuggling. He befriends the novel's protagonist, Egon Wagter, at summer camp in Belgium. It's a strange relationship from the outset: Axel seems to love and admire Egon, who is at best boring and unimaginative. Egon is drawn into orbit around Axel at camp, and in later life is unable to break loose. Eventually, Egon's modest life falls apart. His wife leaves him (she also once was drawn to Axel's more vivid existence), and he proves to be a failure as a geologist. When the opportunity for adventure presents itself, he eagerly seizes the chance to travel to South America with a scientific expedition. But he needs money to participate, so Axel agrees to let humdrum Egon act as a drug courier to a Southeast Asian country, where capital punishment for drug offenses is common. There Egon meets an American woman to whom he is as spookily drawn as he has always been drawn to Axel. Her story unfolds from the novel's midpoint onward, and in a surprising finish, Krabb draws the strands of his tale together in the novel's eponymous cave. This writer's art is one of indirection and understatement. His fine, spare prose weaves a seamless web of vividly imagined reality, and his grasp of daily life in Holland, Massachusetts and Southeast Asia is completely persuasive a tribute no doubt in part to the work of his translator. (Oct.) FYI: A film version of The Cave will be released in November.

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