willem jan otten
Willem Jan Otten

WILLEM JAN OTTEN has written novels, poetry, prose, theatre, reviews and essays. He was awarded the De P.C. Hooftprijs 2014 for his whole oeuvre and has previously won the Constantijn Huygensprijs, de Busken Huetprijs, de Jan Campertprijs, de Herman Gorterprijs en de Libris Literatuurprijs.


Of his previous novel ONS MANKEERT NIETS (NOTHING WRONG WITH US), De Volkskrant said: ‘A writer really has a great deal to offer if he succeeds in seemingly effortlessly dealing with such a complex and serious theme in a solid, supple, excitingly paced story’.

Droomportaal Cover

‘Whoever reads him amasses new experiences without realising it, is inspired with new feelings.’ NRC Handelsblad

‘A more passionate imaginer than Otten can not be found in our literature.’ Trouw

In this year in which Otten was given the PC Hooftprijs for his whole oeuvre, he brings us a new collection of linked narrative essays, even more brilliant than any he has written before. Treating the brain and consciousness and awareness and representation through film, music, fiction, poetry and with his inimitable observations of our world, this book lifts the art of the essay to a whole new level.


Van Oorschot NL

The Portrait

THE INKTAAP PRIJS 2006 (voted for by school students)
LIBRIS PRIZE 2005 (the biggest award in the Netherlands)


This is a short and extremely powerful new novel from one of Holland’s greatest living writers. Reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray – a novel narrated by a canvas, an extraordinary eye-witness and participant in an incredible story.


A young painter, loved for his fine and true-to-life portraits, receives a commission that is unlike any he’s had before: make a portrait of a dead boy. ‘You will save a life with it’ says the boy’s extremely rich father. The painter knows he will have to surpass himself. He takes on the job. Who was the boy? Why is he dead? Why, when the painting is finished, does the father not come to collect it? And why is the painter actually making this painting?


SPECHT EN ZOON is an extraordinary and thrilling novel about the desire to bring someone into the world. It is also about love and death, betrayal and trust, truth and falsehood, lies and honesty. Otten, with all the story-telling talent he has at his disposal, plays with secrets and riddles that the reader can only unravel at the very end. Ten years after his last novel (NOTHING WRONG WITH US) Otten once again shows that he can write an ingenious, contemporary and truly gripping novel in a much shorter space than many of his peers.


‘Willem Jan Otten surpasses himself in his new novel. It sings in places, more than I have ever heard before. Not Gregorian chants but Ottenorian. Read this book with your ears wide open.’ Vrij Nederland

‘Wonderfully the canvas is not the only main character in SPECHT EN ZOON, there is also the painter Felix Vincent with his shame, confusion and doubt. His struggle with the commission he has received is what ultimately makes this a novel that doesn’t just lead you to believe but also to think. As is the purpose of literature.’ NRC Handelsblad


‘Otten has hit a nerve.’ Trouw

‘Singular metaphor of birth and disappearance, fascinating questioning on the meaning of life, Specht en zoon depicts a reality in suspension commonly shared by each and every one of us. This original and fascinating narrative brings us to devour the book just as you would eagerly eat every single day you have left to live.” La Gazette

‘Otten goes into the darkest of places. A great book.’ Le Figaro

‘Otten’s novels are captivating puzzles which never cease to arouse the reader’s curiosity through an ingenious construction.’ Septentrion

‘This new novel is once again confirmation of Otten’s great talent.’ Nederlands Dagblad


Van Oorschot NL


S Fischer Verlag Germany


Iperborea Italy


Gallimard France


Bonniers Sweden


Munhakdongne Korea


Scribe UK & ANZ


SC Humanitas Romania


Here & There Morocco Arabic


Material: Dutch, Australian, German, Italian and Swedish editions (143pp).