Is there a difference between Dutch and English literature? I think so. Generally speaking English poetry seems more accessible compared to Dutch poetry which is often more experimental. Also prose is markedly different.
Recently I discussed this with my creative writing students. English novels are often set in a specific place and in a definite period. This is clearly indicated. Names of streets, pubs, etc do exist in reality.
Many Dutch novels avoid concrete pointers. One of my students even said, ‘I enjoy it if I don’t know where the story takes place.’ Another said, ‘I get an uncomfortable feeling when, reading a novel, I come across the name of a street in Amsterdam.’
Another difference is the pace at which the story unfolds. I am under the impression that English novels are written at a swifter pace. Why this would be, I don’t know. What I do know is that Dutch novels elaborate a lot. Especially descriptions, of the scenery, persons, a room, take up a lot of space. It feels slower.
I even dare to argue that the central theme of many Dutch novels is flimsy but the structure elaborate. It is often the reverse in English novels: the theme is profound but the form seems surprisingly simple. A clear example of this is On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.
The same differences turn up when watching English and Dutch films. And why wouldn’t a difference in literary tastes been reflected in films?
I believe that publishers of translations ought to pay more attention to the suitability of literature for translation. This means that it should appeal to the country of publication. Instead of just thinking one of our bestsellers has to be a hit abroad. This is quite possible but not guaranteed.
On the whole Dutch literature has more in common with German than English literature. This is related to the verbosity.
It is very Dutch to despise Dutch literature. So I could well be accused of this when I argue that Dutch literature is often quite wordy and not very streetwise. Yet of course you can find many gems among Dutch literature; gems that fit in with English literature and add something extra.
Dutch poet Remco Campert, born in 1929, writes seemingly straightforward poetry and he has something to communicate. I hope he finds fame in England before he turns ninety. Eline Vere from Dutch author Louis Couperus (1863-1923) fits in beautifully with the story telling tradition that started with the Bronte sisters. An example of the younger Dutch generation is Arnon Grunberg, born in 1971. Yet his most recent novels have become increasingly verbose.