Book Review: Without Mercy by Renate Dorrestein

Without Mercy by Renate DorresteinRating: 4.5/5 (Very good!)
Number of pages: 256
First published: 2001
Genre: contemporary fiction
I got this book: from the library (Dutch)

Renate Dorrestein is a Dutch author, one of my favorites. Without Mercy has been translated into English which is why you can find my review of it below. And there’s another reason… (see further below).

This author has written almost 20 novels since 1983 and I’ve read at least half of them. This one was new for me (although it’s from 2001).

Without Mercy: What it is about

From “Reminiscent of Andre Dubus’s critically acclaimed In the Bedroom and Joyce Carol Oates’s We Were the Mulvaneys, Renate Dorrestein’s new novel explores the undercurrents of married life and the world of today’s teenagers.

“Perfect” was the word both for Phinus and Franka Vermeer’s marriage and their teenage son, Jem, but in the wake of his senseless murder, grief drives a wedge between them. Determined to resurrect the joy they once knew, the couple embarks on a weekend in the country to mend their fraying relationship. Their marital troubles, however, run deeper than they realize. Suspenseful, tragic, and strangely touching, Without Mercy portrays the preciousness of everyday happiness.”

Without Mercy: What I thought

When Phinus (a very un-Dutch name, I’ve never heard of it before) and Franka go away for a quiet weekend to work on their marriage, their past comes along with them. There is a lot left unsaid that they should have discussed years ago, and on this trip they start to realise this.

The story is built up really well. Intermixed with the “adventures” on their weekend out (they run into some troublesome teenagers) are the events that happened in the past. It becomes clear how their marriage has run into trouble and why Phinus feels guilty about the death of their son. The different ways Franka and Phinus mourn means they cannot share their grief.

The book is about marriage, delinquent teenagers, violence by and towards teenagers, grief. It sounds awful! But it’s really well-written and there isn’t a great deal of actual blood. 🙂 The ending is… hopeful.

Extra: In a few days’ time you can win your own copy of this book! I’ve got an English translation to give away.

About Judith
I'm owner and editor at and We edit books and articles for independent writers.

16 Responses to Book Review: Without Mercy by Renate Dorrestein

  1. As I have said before I wouldn’t call myself a great fan of Dorrestein, although I do own seven of her books and the last one I bought is this one. I know I really liked it too, but I have read it a long time ago so I don’t remember any details. I would like to reread it, after reading your review. Thanks for bringing this to my attention again, Judith.

  2. Joanna says:

    This sounds like a great read, Judith. I have seen the movie ‘in the bedroom’ and I wonder if it’s the same one. I love personal relationships’ stories so will check it out. Not sure if I can wait for your giveaway and luck though! Jo

  3. I just added this to my TBR wish list. It would be great to win a copy – I’m looking forward to the giveaway!

  4. Marie says:

    I have never heard of this author – isn’t it funny how novelists can slip completely under your radar even having written so many books. I don’t read much translated fiction, my knowledge of European authors outside my own country is very poor. This sounds good so I’ll keep my eye out for your next post 🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Marie, I don’t think many of her books are translated. And anyway, there are so many English-original books by comparison, that I’m not surprised you don’t keep up with other European literature. When I lived in the UK I read almost only UK and US authors myself.

  5. Stephanie says:

    This sounds interesting. I did like In the Bedroom by Andre Dubus.

  6. Kelly says:

    I read Dorrestein’s Heart of Stone earlier this year, and it was really excellent. This one sounds great as well (and similar in terms of the emotional tone). Thanks for putting this one on my radar!

  7. Renate Dorrestein’s books are real page-turners. I’m sure they’d sell well if more of them were translated into English. She definitely deserves a wider audience.

  8. JoV says:

    This interests me, is this where I express my interest to participate in the draw? Definitely would like to read a Dutch translated fiction!

  9. Hester V. says:

    As Renate’s English translator, I’d encourage you to read her books, all of them poignant, sometimes shocking, reads. The three that have been published in English are A Heart of Stone, Without Mercy and A Crying Shame. She is particularly good at portraying children in an unsentimental but very believable way.

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