Cheese ("Kaas"; 1933) is a gentle fable, timeless in its skewering of the pretensions and pomposity of businessmen. Frans Laarmans, a humble shipping clerk in Antwerp, “getting on for fifty,” becomes the chief agent in Belgium and Luxembourg for a Dutch cheese company. Thrilled at the change in his status (and income), he goes on leave and sets up an office at home. He desperately wants to get some respect, as “thirty years of servility have naturally left their mark on me.”
Laarmans takes delivery of ten thousand full-cream wheels of this red-rinded Dutch delight. But he has no idea how to run a business, or how to sell his goods. He is more focused on setting up his office with a proper desk and typewriter, rather than doing the hard-selling that is needed. But as the bulk of the cheese sits in storage, crates and crates of it, the stinking and ripening substance starts to haunt him. And when his employer, the brusque Mr Hornstra, wires him to say he is coming to Antwerp to settle the first accounts, Laarmans panics...
Cheese is a gentle, humorous story of small-time ambition faced with too grand an opportunity, told with brisk efficiency. It is also a warning not to wander away too far from the trade we know.
English translation and preface by Paul Vincent. Published by Granta, 2002. Dutch original available here.