Gregor Verwijmeren on his book The Shape of Sound

It will not have escaped many people’s notice: last autumn library staff member Gregor Verwijmeren made his debut with De vorm van geluid (The Shape of Sound), a much-praised novel about tinnitus, sounds and music, published by the renowned publishing house Van Oorschot. As part of the Healthy Artists theme, the editorial team of the newsletter sent the author to interview himself.

Mr. Verwijmeren, you wrote a book about tinnitus, a phenomenon that probably doesn't need an introduction in this building. Why did you write a book about something that …

Novel. Sorry to interrupt you. I did not write a book but a novel. An essential distinction. A novel exists by the grace of the author's imagination, which is, as it were, the author’s capital. I would like to add explicitly that De vorm van geluid is not a patient's story and neither should be classified under confessional literature.

Should we conclude from this that there is no autobiographical basis for your novel?

I didn't say that. The question is whether it is relevant. As soon as you turn the cover of a novel you enter a fictional world, a word machine that wants to take the reader on a journey. The point is then: does the story being told affect the reader? Does it enhance his experience as a human being?

Enhance the human experience. Do you think of that as the noble task of literature?

Literature is nothing but a way to investigate human nature. A serious matter, but that doesn’t mean that laughter is not allowed. There is indeed humour in my novel. Sometimes it is black, but not always. I would also like to say that the play with language and words makes the whole literary endeavour something that is ...

Let me interrupt you on my turn. You are rather … verbose, Mr. Verwijmeren. I suspect that your novel is full of long sentences that spill over the page edges. This is not a criticism, but the space allocated to us in the newsletter is limited.

That everything has to be done fast nowadays and gets little space is one of the themes of my novel.

Without a doubt. But just to get to the point, because we cannot fully discuss all the philosophies of your book, excuse me: novel. Do you perhaps have a concluding word for the reader that touches on the theme of this newsletter?

So soon already? Mmm, I was thinking for a moment about those sentences ‘sloshing over the page edges’, a beautiful image. The best thing I have to say about this theme is in my novel. Anyway, without wanting to appear too edifying. When you walk through this building, what do you hear?

Eh ... music?

Music. In other words, sounds that connect. But sounds can also stand between someone and the world. That tinnitus does that is widely known, but still the number of people with tinnitus keeps on increasing. To a large extent it has to do with consciousness, but also with circumstances that are often beyond our control. For example, did you know there is a small room upstairs on the sixth floor where many thousands of singing teachers’ cilia have lain to never rise again? It has been claimed that reading my novel sharpens the senses, opens the ears to the beauty of often very everyday sounds. In that spirit I would like to say: your ears are a gift, treat them that way, and then the rest will come naturally.

Gregor Verwijmeren studied Language and Culture Studies in Utrecht and at the conservatory. He is currently working on his second novel for which he received a grant from the Dutch Foundation for Literature. Next spring he will spend a month in Scotland as a writer in residence and represent his country at the European First Novel Festival in Budapest. There are advanced plans for writing an opera based on his novel with composer and KC-colleague Dominy Clements. De vorm van geluid has since been added to the library collection, but can also be purchased there signed by the author. More info: gregorverwijmeren.nl