Zo is hij
In one of Vonne van der Meer’s short stories, De oude vrouw en de jonge man, ‘The Old Woman and the Young Man’, a Dutch woman celebrates her seventieth birthday alone in an outdoor cafe in Madrid. ‘When she was alone she had no age:’ A handsome young Spaniard who tries to sell her two tickets for a bullfight offers to accompany her himself when he learns that she is alone.
She accepts his offer. She quietly enjoys the youth and the spectacle that her (deceased?) husband Carl would never attend with her and secretly thinks of what she would like to do with Arturo after the show.
Many of Vonne van der Meer’s stories and novels are set in the grey area of thoughts and unspoken feelings of shame and uncertainty. This theme was already present in ‘Farewell from Phoebe’, the first story of her first collection, Het limonadegevoel (‘The Lemonade Feeling’). The story is about a woman who is pregnant but is confronted with a miscarriage halfway to term. In ‘Fear of the Roller Coaster’ a woman in her mid-forties dares herself to be unfaithful by buying expensive lingerie and fantasising that the handsome young shop assistant is following her. The title of the closing story in this collection, ‘Take Me to the Bullfight’, is also a sentence spoken by the seventy year old woman in Van der Meer’s most recent story; ample indication that the author has remained true to her own preoccupations.
Zo is hij is a story about the illustrator and teacher Lucas Vlieger who wants to take stock of his life and ‘is seeking the words with which he coincides: He finds an envelope on his doormat with Judgement re: Lucas Vlieger’ written on it.
After he has lost the envelope and has honestly summoned up his failed marriage and successive relationships he searches for the envelope in a shed full of waste paper. There he realises that he is himself a blank page and so (in place of making an illustration) takes up pen and paper to begin a book which he writes for his new girlfriend, Martine - the book we have just read.
In Zo is hij Vonne van der Meer has exposed the basis on which her writing rests: the insecurities and desires of her characters have to be set down on paper before they can come to life, gain the right to exist, lead to insights and reach and speak to others. Or, as Lucas Vlieger remarks in a tete-à-tete with the author, who occasionally appears in her own book: “As long as they read, I live.”