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October 2017
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Kieft as winner of the NS audience prize: an unwise surprise

Every single day an abundance of delays, packed like sardines on our way to work, and sky high prices robbing our purses. It is almost obvious to say that we as regular train travelers are not that fond of our Dutch railways “Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)”. One would say that for once letting us audiences pull the strings by deciding which literary work can be called “best book of the year” under the guise of the NS audience prize, could soften our harsh opinions. However, the on the 19th of November awarded NS audience prize to the shallow novel Kieft showed that nothing could be further from the truth.


The nominated literary works and winner Kieft

The NS audience prize is a yearly awarded prize that puts us train travelers in the powerful position of pointing out that year’s best Dutch novel. This year, six diverse literary works were nominated by the NS: Toen ik je zag, Ventoux, Geachte heer M., Debet, De Kraamhulp and Kieft. After 88.414 of us voted, barely two weeks ago on an innocent Wednesday night the winner was announced in the talkshow De Wereld Draait Door (DWDD). When the lights dimmed, the drums started to roll and “Ladies and gentlemen, the NS audience prize of 2014 goes tooo.. KIEFT!” rang from my television, I was left in severe astonishment. Reviewing these books will help you understand why.

Labeling a literary work as “best book of the year” creates high substantive and linguistic expectations. According to professor in Dutch language and literature Dr. Rademaker, two of the nominated works could definitely have lived up to these expectations. He stressed that especially Geachte heer M. by the well known Dutch writer Herman Koch greatly deserved this title. The novel tells the breathtaking true story of a retired outpaced Dutch writer “M.” who in his successful past wrote about two high school students that were suspected of murdering their teacher. Decades later, one of these suspects moves to the flat M. lives in and starts writing him letters. Slowly, the reader gets to know what exactly happened to the teacher and what the men concealed. Clearly impressed, Dr. Rademaker conveyed the beauty of this book to me and mentioned that “Koch has written magnificently.. the language is captive and by varying perspectives, he exposes the reader to literature’s function of utile dolci”. According to the professor, this function meaning sweet but useful is creatively conveyed by combining critical societal issues with humorous entertainment.

Also Ventoux has been praised for its high literature value. DWDD mentioned that this novel has everything and shows an ultimate portrayal of friendship. The book tells the story of the crime investigator and cyclist Bart Hoffman. When his old friends again show up in his life, they relive their summer of 1982 with love stories, cycling, betrayal and manslaughter on the Mont Ventoux. According to book merchant Samoa Greeve at “De Omslag” in Delft, Ventoux sells incredibly because of its unrivaled descriptive language and deeper meanings hidden between the lines. Dr. Rademaker complemented this vision by telling me that although the story’s plot remains a little shallow, Hoffman intriguingly makes literary references and directly interests its audience with its concise but meaningful writing style.

Interestingly, Samoa Greeve and Dr. Rademaker agreed that one book clearly did not belong to the best-novel-of-the-year-category. Let that be Kieft. This winning novel is a biography describing the life of the former football legend Wim Kieft who played for Ajax, PSV and the Dutch national team. The story sheds light on his heavy addiction to the drug coke during his football career and on his struggle to remain clean. In this trivial story, the reader gets exposed to harsh rehab processes, destroyed friendships, anger and dangerous dealers. According to Samoa Greeve, the novel does not even deserve the title biography as it only deals with Kieft’s addiction. Firmly irritated she said “writing a story that sells is something different than producing literature that goes beyond entertainment..”. Dr. Rademaker could not comprehend how they could even think such a shallow book can be awarded. “Kieft is simply a desultory trivial story with narrow-minded language attracting an audience that appreciate football, not literature.. the NS should feel ashamed”, he said. And that last remark is what many of us highly educated train travels think and puts the NS in an even more unfavorable light.


Full trains: an “ordinary” situation during rush hours

Cynically enough, advisor in branding of the NS Mrs. Miedema opined that the NS audience prize is actually organized in order to tighten the relationship with its travelers and contribute to a positive corporate image as reading is associated with feelings of sympathy. The fact that a reverse processes happened is stressed by Joyce Plenter, graduate in Journalism and daily train traveler. Every single day, Joyce travels with the intercity from Amsterdam to Utrecht, a ride of 30 minutes which she is always forced to spend standing because a seat seems to be an otiose luxury at rush hours. “Awarding Kieft as best novel of the year is one big joke. For me it is another reason not to trust this ridiculous organization..“ she said in relief. Another train traveler and former student in communication Vanja Vaneman argued that it is a foolish move of the NS as she opines that being associated with a book that deals with drugs and decay minimizes the chance of a harmonious image.

After all, in order to save its image the NS is left with two options. Either make sure that a highly valued literary work wins the title of “best book of the year” or set aside the entire prize and utilize the funding for improvements. Not being packed like sardines but being free like a bird, and once being early instead of late for work, is what many of us train travelers dream of. At the end, Kieft once was a successful scoring football player but did not reach the goal in contributing to a successful image of the NS.

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