Book cover of What I'd Rather Not Think About

Reading guide: What I'd Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma, translated by Sarah Timmer Harvey

A deeply moving exploration of grief, told in brief, precise vignettes, which asks the question: what if one half of a pair of twins no longer wants to live?

Whether you’re new to What I’d Rather Not Think About or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide, featuring insights from critics, our judges and the book’s author and translator, as well as discussion points and suggestions for further reading. 

Publication date and time: Published


What if one half of a pair of twins no longer wants to live? What if the other can’t live without them? This question lies at the heart of Jente Posthuma’s deceptively simple What I’d Rather Not Think About. The narrator is a twin whose brother has recently taken his own life. She looks back on their childhood, and tells of their adult lives: how her brother tried to find happiness, but lost himself in various men and the Bhagwan movement, though never completely. 

A deeply moving exploration of grief, told in brief, precise vignettes and full of gentle melancholy and surprising humour. Translated from Dutch by Sarah Timmer Harvey.

The main characters


Two is the protagonist of What I’d Rather Not Think About. While her real name is never disclosed, we learn her twin brother defined her as ‘Two’ as she was born 45 minutes after him. ‘He treated me like his little sister, was longer and heavier than me at birth, and had taken up almost all the space in my mother’s belly. I’d been stuck behind him with my left leg thrown over my shoulder, or so the story goes.’ 

After his suicide, Two mourns the death of her brother and desperately seeks to find answers to his unhappiness, buried within his belongings. 


Two’s brother is described by One as ‘more active, talked louder, and threw bigger tantrums than I did’. His parents simply call him ‘headstrong’. One is gay, a fact Two always knows. In his adult life, he suffers from depression. He dies by suicide at age 35. 

About the author

Jente Posthuma was born in Enschede, Netherlands. Her critically acclaimed first novel, Mensen zonder uitstraling (People Without Charisma), was published in 2016 and nominated for the Dioraphte Literatour Prize, the Hebban Debut Prize and the ANV Debut Prize.

Posthuma took Literary Studies at university and began her career as a journalist, doing extensive interviews for De Groene Amsterdammer,, and de Volkskrant. Her short stories appeared in, among others, De Revisor, Das Magazin, Hollands Maandblad, and De Gids.

Her second novel What I’d Rather Not Think About (2020) was equally well received and was also shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Literature 2021. 

Portrait of author Jente Posthuma

About the translator

Sarah Timmer Harvey is a translator and writer based in New York. Reconstruction, a collection of stories written by the Dutch-Surinamese writer Karin Amatmoekrim and translated by Sarah, was published by Strangers Press in 2020. Sarah’s translations of Dutch-language poetry and prose have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, Asymptote, Gulf Coast Journal, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. 

Portrait of translator Sarah Timmer Harvey

What the critics said

The Telegraph 

‘What makes What I’d Rather Not Think About rise above the average mourning novel is its utter authenticity. Posthuma associates, philosophizes, links memories to everyday actions, draws on films and television series and tries to interpret in a laconic, light-footed and pointed way. “Less is more” with Jente Posthuma. And again, she seems to be saying: nothing is “whole” here, in the subhuman. Everything rumbles, frays, and creaks.’

Nederlands Letterenfonds / Dutch Foundation for Literature

‘Posthuma’s scenes are deceptively light and sometimes wryly absurd, full of dialogue that is all about what’s not being said. Two’s urge to keep her brother close is always pulsing beneath the surface. But her brother is ‘broken and can’t be fixed anymore.’ After his death, Two hides out in his apartment, reading and rereading his journals. The desire to understand him remains, but she doesn’t find the answers she’s looking for. Posthuma has written a novel about this predicament that is deeply moving, vulnerable and funny.’

Alison Huber,

‘In some ways it is tricky to recommend this book widely because of its difficult subject matter: it revolves around the grief of a twin who is trying to work out how to move forward in her own life after her brother, a long-term sufferer of depression, takes his own. To paraphrase the title, familial suicide and depression are certainly two of the key things many people would rather not think (or indeed read) about, but I want to tell you that this book is gorgeous. It is expertly crafted, moving, and at times startlingly funny, as the narrator tries to navigate the enormity of her loss.’

The Sydney Morning Herald

‘This exquisitely vulnerable novel inverts the upbeat struggle between twins which tends to dominate fictional portrayals. The narrator, Two, had a twin brother, One, who has recently killed himself. […] It’s psychologically dark – Two succumbs to an eccentric compulsion and she researches everything she can about Mengele’s brutal “experiments” on twins at Auschwitz – with no false sense of “closure”, and reminded me of Thomas Bernhard’s unrelentingly bleak, absurd, existential short fiction (ultimately comic, but only just) on a similar theme.’

Rebecca Foster, Foreword

‘With no speech marks, the conversations blend into cogitation and memories. Two meets with a therapist to parse her conflicting emotions and contemplate the meaning of self-harm. Suicide stories pervade the text, with the twins trading trivia about Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, September 11, 2001, and the Holocaust. A wry tone, however, tempers the bleakness. What I’d Rather Not Think About is a forthright novel in which mental health, sexual orientation, and suicide are subjects of frank, empathetic consideration.’

What the International Booker Prize judges said

‘A deeply moving exploration of grief and identity through the lives of twins, one of whom dies by suicide. Posthuma delves into the surviving twin’s efforts to understand and come to terms with the loss of her brother, examining the profound complexities of familial bonds. Posthuma navigates delicate themes with sensitivity and formal inventiveness, portraying the nuances of the twins’ relationship and the individual struggles they face. The author skillfully inflects tragedy with unexpected humour and provides a multifaceted look at the search for meaning in the aftermath of tragedy. The novel stands out for its empathetic portrayal of love, loss, and resilience.’   

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; William Kentridge, Natalie Diaz, Eleanor Wachtel, Aaron Robertson and Romesh Gunesekera.

What the translator said

‘I aimed to maintain sympathy for all the characters while ensuring that their portrayal was filtered through Two’s perspective. This lens was crucial for portraying One, who is indeed quite obsessive. His similarities with Two emerge throughout the novel, such as his obsession with cults and his attempts to assume his boyfriend’s identity. He’s searching for the same things that his sister is, but they struggle to communicate effectively. In navigating this dynamic, I drew from personal experiences with siblings and loved ones, where we tend to see people the way we want to see them rather than who they truly are.’

Read the full interview in

Questions and discussion points

What I’d Rather Not Think About is made up of a series of vignettes – small chapters, often no longer than a paragraph in length – that traverse back and forth through time as the narrator recounts her life with her twin brother. Why do you think Posthuma adopted this format for the book, and what does it offer the reader that a traditional, linear novel could not?

The author peppers the text with moments of humour. As readers, it’s easy to laugh with – and even at – the narrator. Discuss how this use of humour, set within otherwise dark subject matter, may help readers navigate this material.

‘It took another eight years for my brother to tell our mother that he was into boys, a fact so obvious to me that his solemn tone seemed absurd. My brother was the norm, and I was the anomaly, which is why I didn’t understand my mother’s odd reaction.’ (Page 14). The narrator, Two, refers to herself as ‘the anomaly’ within the text. What might she have meant by the term, and why did she feel this of herself and her place in the family? 

Posthuma leverages a series of recurring ideas throughout What I’d Rather Not Think About as a way to discuss twins generally and her relationship with her brother: New York’s Twin Towers and Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between them; Josef Mengele, the doctor of Auschwitz, and his experimentations on twins at Auschwitz. How are these seemingly disparate themes, or Two’s obsessions, interconnected, and what do they signify for her? 

After her brother’s death, Two moves into his apartment and dedicates much of her time to reading his journals, searching for clues and trying to understand his actions. She revisits their past, analysing times when their paths may have begun to diverge. Does she, and can she, find the answers she is looking for to ever truly understand her brother’s death? 

Resources and further reading

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