The meaning of empty statements
In Normale dagen (Ordinary Days), Esther Gerritsen’s second novel, we follow the playwright Lucie who, after a three-year absence, is returning to her grandparents’ home in the Gelderland countryside because her grandpa is dying. She grew up on the farm with her grandpa and grandma. Lucie is working on a play about the so-called Oklahoma City bomber and therefore is reading his biography. Throughout the novel links are made or suggested between the experiences of Timothy McVeigh and the situation in which Lucie finds herself with her grandparents.
Normale dagen is not really a ‘document humain’ about a grandparent’s dying; it is not trying to evoke emotional identification in the reader. Gerritsen writes on a more philosophical level about distance and commitment, about loyalty and betrayal. Lucie had more or less run away from her grandparents, and in order to elicit a reaction from them she never gave them a sign of life. This created an even greater irritation for her: there was no reaction. When after several years Lucie sets foot in her grandparents’ house once again, she again bumps her toe against the bucket that always stood in the courtyard, her grandma continues looking at television, and she is simply welcomed with the words ‘have you eaten yet?’
Still, Lucie discovers gradually that the people who are labeled ‘odd’ by her friend, the people who have nothing to say and whose ‘conversations’ always run according to a set pattern, are also the people with whom she belongs. Even if it were only because in their eyes she belongs with them. Once she is open to the ‘ordinary,’ Lucie starts to pay close attention to the meaning of empty statements, routine actions, and sullen silence. Her farewell to her grandfather takes place in style, polite and with few words. ‘And that’s how she wanted it. With this politeness she gave him back his dignity.’
Normale dagen is a novel that gets a hold over you. Just like the principal character, you can as reader not do anything but capitulate and pay attention to the drama. For it is a drama, in all its stillness, silence, and coarseness.