Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda

bonita-avenueWhat is it about Dutch-Scando-wegian literature that makes me so uncomfortable? Admittedly, I have not read much, but what I have read always takes me to an uncomfortable place. It takes rather black and white issues and blurs them all together into innumerable shades of gray.

All that preamble to say that Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda made me extremely uncomfortable at times. That’s not to say it wasn’t a very well put together novel – it was. It is a complex family tale about love, hate and various transgressions. It is a very dark look at how far an individual will go to safe guard his secrets and those he loves. Comparisons have been made to Jonathan Franzen and to me, that seems quite apt.

Although a fair portion of the novel deals with pornography and the porn industry, that was not the part that made me so uncomfortable. Instead it was the violence, and to be more precise, the detailed descriptions. I am squeamish, it’s true and Bonita Avenue took me to places I did not want to imagine. In fact by the end, I found myself skimming long passages to avoid the gore.

Notably, the one thing Bonita Avenue does very well is unlikable characters. I don’t have a problem with them, and Buwalda has drawn quite a few in this novel. To me what makes them interesting is their motivations.

Who would like this book? If you liked Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool (review), then this book may be for you. It took me to that same uncomfortable place and beyond. Again, it was the violence more than the subject matter that pushed me beyond the edge. It is also a novel about truth, lies and power dynamics. It begs the question of what you would do if put in the same situation.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. 


  1. I heard about this book on a Guardian Podcast a fewxmonths ago and bought it. Its near the top of the pile now so i expect to read it in the next couple of months. Since buying it Ive read mixed reviews but I guess i will soon find out for myself!

  2. I think I’m probably too squeamish for this one! It sounds like an intriguing book and I think I could also deal with the subject matter, but graphically violent books aren’t something I’m interested in reading.

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