You Have Me to Love


Beautiful, tender and disturbing

On a remote island somewhere in the North Atlantic, a nine-year-old boy looks on helplessly as his father is swept out to sea. Consumed by guilt and paralysed by his mother’s frantic grief, Mikael cannot bring himself to tell the truth about what happened. As the pair struggle to restore the fragile balance of their isolated lives, the young widow starts to demand the impossible of her only son.

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Publication date

3 December, 2015




Jaap Robben

The multitalented Jaap Robben is a Dutch poet, novelist, playwright and performer … Read more


Book Club Questions

  1. The story is told by Mikael. What would the story look like if it was told by Mikael’s mother, Dora, or by the neighbor, Karl?
  2. Which feelings did the reading of this book evoke in you?
  3. How would you describe the relationship between Mikael and the gulls? How does this relationship relate to the central themes of the novel?
  4. The reviewer of the Volkskrant describes Birk as “a novel that slowly tightens its hold.” Does this match your own reading experience? Which factors contribute to this?
  5. If you could choose five words to describe You Have Me to Love, which would they be, and why?
  6. Mikael and Dora each deal with the loss of their father and husband in their own way. What typifies their reactions to this loss? Can you put yourself in their position and try to understand their grief and their attitudes toward each other?
  7. Alongside Mikael and Dora, the neighbor, Karl, is the only remaining resident of the island. “Shopping man” Brigitta and his son, Ingmar, are the only connections with the world beyond. What are, according to you, the roles of Karl, Brigitta, and Ingmar?
  8. How does the environment relate to the atmosphere and theme of the story?
  9. No dates are mentioned in the novel. In what time period do you think the story takes place? What does it mean for you that the author has chosen not to specify this?
  10. Robben describes many objects, including Mikael’s red ball, the abandoned items in Mrs. Augusta’s house, and Birk’s clothes. What function do you think these objects have in the story?
  11. In the first part of the book and at the end, Mikael “sees” visions of his father several times. What does this mean? Why are these apparitions absent in the middle of the book? What do you think of this aspect of the story?
  12. At the end of the book, Mikael hides in a wardrobe in Mrs. Augusta’s house. This is a fairly open ending. What do you think about this? How do you think that the life of Mikael and the other characters will continue?
  13. You Have Me to Love is Robben’s debut novel. Previously he wrote children’s literature. What do you think of this transition from children’s literature to literature for adults? Would the story also lend itself to a book for young adults? What would (have to) change?
  14. Do the themes and atmosphere of You Have Me to Love remind you of other books that you have read? If so, which? What are the similarities and differences with these other books?


You Have Me to Love explores raw and unsettling psychological territory. It is a story that once read will stick with the reader for a long time.’ —Literary Review

You Have Me to Love is an intense and dramatic novel filled with meticulous use of detail and a forensic psychological accuracy. Its power comes from the fierce energy of the narrative structure, the way of handling silence and pain, and the ability to confront the darkest areas of experience with clear-eyed sympathy and care. Jaap Robben handles delicate, dangerous material with subtlety and sympathy, but also with a visionary sense of truth that is masterly and unforgettable.’ —COLM TÓIBÍN

‘This is a bold, tender and ambivalent narrative, raw and disturbing, with moments of painful beauty.’ —Irish Times

‘An overwhelming debut about lost childhood innocence, You Have Me to Love can be favourably compared to Niccolò Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared and Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden.’ —Het Parool