The Game Changer by Dave Dröge follows the life of flamboyant Henk van Wijnen-Swarttouw, a high-powered businessman whose life is rapidly falling apart. His wife left him, his daughter is an eccentric embarrassment, his business is collapsing, and he might be headed to jail. With everything disintegrating around him, he wants to try to come to terms with at least one difficulty in his life: his activist – and exhibitionist – daughter. In doing so, he may be in danger of unraveling even further.
The novel is an ambitious and multi-layered story about art, business, environmentalism, and family, with the city of Rotterdam playing a central role. Just as the story is in part about multi-culturalism and the clash between conservatism and modernity, Henk himself is a multi-faceted and sometimes contradictory character. He’s frustrating at times, but always interesting.
Henk’s character alone would be enough to fill out a novel, but there are a number of secondary characters and subplots that build on the overall the theme – namely the battle between present-day upheaval and the idealization of the past. His daughter is also fascinating, albeit occasionally as frustrating as her father. But then, that is core to the book’s outlook: a warts and all perspective on the human condition. This works on both a micro and macro level; Dröge is looking at the microcosm of the self as a reflection of the macrocosm of society.
There’s a bit of difficulty in the translation, so some of the language seems stilted and hard to sift through. Once you get into the rhythm of the novel, it takes on a kind of language of its own. Overall, it’s a compelling story because of its ambition – a character-driven novel that’s not just about one man, or one city, but the nature of existence.