Book review: Tomorrow Pamplona

By Jan van Mersbergen
Translated by Laura Watkinson
Published by
Peirene Press

Were it a film, Tomorrow Pamplona would keep your eyes glued to the screen. Being a book, it keeps your eyes glued to its pages and makes your fingers itch with anticipation!

To celebrate its publication day, here is what some lucky readers had to say about Jan van Mersbergen's enthralling novel...

Sonya from London said:

This is the first time in a while that I have read a book written by a foreign author. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I would enjoy it but I really did, so much so that I found it extremely hard to put down. Praise has to be given also to Laura Watkinson who made a really good job of translating this novel into English.

The storyline follows a professional boxer who is fleeing from an unhappy love and a family man who likes to escape his dull routine once a year by going to the annual Pamplona Bull Run. These are two strangers who meet on the road and end up travelling together. The boxer doesn’t really know where he’s going, just that he has to escape. So when the family man asks him if he wants to go with him to the Pamplona Bull Run, he does. They both know that eventually they will have to return home though.

This book was cleverly written and I certainly found it to be thought provoking. It’s not very long either, which is good sometimes when you don’t have too much time to read. It’s given me a taste for European Literature now and I hope to get the chance to read more books like this.

David from Bolton said:

I have to admit that Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan Van Mersbergen probably wouldn't have been my first choice of book but I'm glad I was offered the opportunity to read it. It's a short novel which could easily be read during a long train journey or a day on the beach.

Without spoiling anything, Tomorrow Pamplona is the story of two men's road trip to the famous Pamplona bull running. Robert, a family man, attends every year, and on the way picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker called Danny, a boxer running away from something. As the book progresses we learn more about the Running of the Bulls from Robert and we learn Danny's backstory and the reason for his flight.

The book is short but is fast paced, tying in with the idea of the speed of the bulls, and Van Mersbergen doesn't overload us with too much of the actual journey, instead using it as an opportunity to introduce us to the outgoing Robert, secretive Danny and the growth of the friendship between them.

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting the story to twist the way it did and for my opinion of the characters to change, which is a credit to the skill of Van Mersbergen.

I'd also like to give some praise to the translator, Laura Watkinson. I've read some translated books before where the conversations can be stilted and it is obvious a translation has taken place. Reading Tomorrow Pamplona, I forgot it was a translated novel and this greatly adds to the pleasure as you aren't constantly mentally correcting errors.

I'd rate this book as 4/5. There were still some unanswered questions at the end which always tends to frustrate me but I'd certainly read another of the author's books if I saw one.

Alice from London said:

De Morgen tells us to expect ‘an intense reading experience,’ and Van Mersbergen doesn’t disappoint. This is the story of two very different men both looking for an escape; however fleeting. Their destinies collide when paunchy family man Robert decides to stop for Danny Clare, a professional boxer, whom he finds standing on a roadside, hitching a lift in the pouring rain.

Robert is driving from Amsterdam to Pamplona, Spain, for the annual Bull Run. It is the one weekend a year that allows him to break free from the confines of his suburban family routine and experience life at its most exhilarating. As Robert explains to Danny: ‘It’s a celebration. It’s danger. It’s real life.’ Danny is running away from something and with a little persuasion and macho-banter from Robert, quickly decides to join him for the journey and experience the heady rush of Pamplona for himself. The two-day road trip takes them through France, to the wine regions of the South and into Spain. Despite being forced into such close proximity, the two men reveal very little about themselves; the oppressive silence seems to drag on indefinitely, the atmosphere in the car becoming stomach-churningly tense as they speed towards Pamplona.

We learn about their characters from Van Mersbergen’s acute and delicate observations and Danny’s frequent and vivid flashbacks. Through these we eventually discover the source of his emotional turmoil - Danny’s beautiful and mysterious lover Ragna and her villainous wheel-chair bound boss, Gerard Varon. Outwardly blank, and consistently defensive, Danny is struggling to contain the raging whirl of emotions which threaten to capsize his world. Robert is not given an internal monologue and as a result sometimes seemed almost two-dimensional; a little more detail about his past and personality would have allowed a reader to feel something other than indifference towards him. However Van Mersbergen’s sparse yet concise prose style is pitch-perfect; unaffected and unassuming. He skilfully builds the tension, layer upon layer, until the reader is writhing in anticipation.

My favourite scene was a brief interlude, an overnight stop in the South of France where Danny encounters an elderly woman taking her nightly swim in the river. Her character was superbly drawn and the scene provided a much-needed glimmer of beauty in what is essentially a bleak novel. Nonetheless, it is a masterly exploration of the shifting dynamics between strangers, the destructive nature of obsessive love and our perceptions of modern masculinity. I would recommend reading it in one sitting to fully appreciate the tense cinematic qualities it conjures.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this book & although its facade was quite masculine, touches such as that interlude at the camp site by the river was beautifully written & showed another side to this book.


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