The Dutch novelist Margriet de Moor has written some of my favorite books, including THE VIRTUOSO and THE KREUTZER SONATA. First published in 2005, her novel THE STORM revolves around a catastrophic event of nature which took place on January 31st, 1953: a massive, towering wave of water - driven by hurricane-force winds - crashed into the Dutch coastline, reducing the dikes to rubble with ensuing great loss of life and property. A quarter of the Netherlands' land mass was effectively wiped off the map.
In de Moor's novel, Armanda has persuaded her sister Lidy to take her place at a party for Armanda's godchild in the town of Zierikzee. In turn, Armanda will stay home, caring for Lidy's two-year-old daughter Nadja and accompanying Lidy’s husband to a party. The sisters look so much alike and Armanda thinks this "switch" will be a charming diversion for both of them. But what neither sister can know is that Lidy is headed for the center of the oncoming, deadly storm.
The plan goes forward; having driven thru heavy rains and winds, Lidy arrives at Zierikzee. It isn't til later, on leaving the godchild's party, that she realizes the life-threatening force of the storm, and that she is right in the midst of it. As the flooding commences, Lidy and a random group of strangers find refuge in the attic of a farmhouse the lower floors of which are under water. As the group deal with the delivery of one woman's baby, the storm continues outside unabated. Back at home, news of the diasater begins to reach Armanda, her parents, and Lidy's husband Gjoerd.
The group huddled in the attic survive overnight and it seems next day that the flood waters might be receding just a bit; they hope for a rescue boat to come by. But a second assault of wind blows in off the North Sea and in a hair-raising moment the foundation of the house gives way. Lidy and the others are plunged into the vastness of the turbulent waters, clinging to random bits of flotsam. All hope is lost.
For Armanda and Gjoerd there now begins a long period of time communicating with officials and going to the various recovery points, hoping to claim Lidy's body. But all leads are false: Lidy's name remains among the missing.
Always somewhat attracted to one another, Armanda and her brother-in-law begin an affair out of sheer loneliness. As the months pass by and hope fades for ever finding Lidy, Armanda and Gjoerd decide to marry: Gjoerd needs a wife and little Nadja needs a mother. (It will be years, in fact, before Nadja discovers Armanda is not her real mother.)
Things settle into a routine and the story might have faded away in a haze of memories when, some twenty years after the disaster, Armanda receives a call from the police: some remains have been found buried in the mud near the Osterschelde. Examination of the bones have led the authorities to believe they have a possible match to Lidy in terms of height and age. Also pulled from the mud along with the remains was an eroded piece of decorative metal: de Moor had subtly planted this clue for the reader. Though Armanda herself would never be certain that these bones were indeed long-dead sister's, she accepts it as fact and along with Nadja watches as Lidy's coffin is lowered into the grave.
The novel's final pages are so evocative, but I won't spoil the ending for you. THE STORM is a very moving and well-written story.