The Netherlands and Flanders, the Dutch-speaking area of Belgium, form a single literary entity. Dutch literature is not divorced from European literature, and general schools such as naturalism, modernism and post-war experimentalism are to be found in the Netherlands just as they are elsewhere. Yet Dutch literature does have a number of typical characteristics. From the Second World War onwards, many novels have been autobiographical in nature, the psychological novel has been over-represented, and Dutch writers have tended to remain close to home in their themes – family romances are still popular. There is no great tradition of fantasy tales, and, particularly since the 1960s, the major emphasis has been on realism. Religion has played an important role in the typical Dutch novel; either being fulminated against or used as a tool of symbolism. Besides Christendom, many writers have used classical antiquity as an important frame of reference.
Of course there are exceptions to such generalisations, and what is striking is that these exceptions have actually enjoyed a great deal of success outside the Netherlands. The erudite Harry Mulisch, for example, is not one to shy from writing ambitious and philosophical novels packed full of symbolism. At first, these works brought him more success abroad than at home, when compared to his peers Gerard Reve and W.F. Hermans with their more realistic style of writing, although the latter has acquired far more international readers since his death. In France a favourable review by Milan Kundera set Hermans’ international success in motion, and he is now also read and appreciated in the United States. The plot-driven and internationally orientated novels by Leon de Winter, the philosophical travel writings of Cees Nooteboom, the psychological novels by Margriet de Moor and Hella Haasse’s books featuring the Dutch East Indies are also enormously popular abroad.