Charlotte Mutsaers

Rachel's Skirt

A poignant plea for young love, passion and the eschewal of maturity

In her essay collection Kersebloed, Charlotte Mutsaers wrote heartwarming sentences about artists she admires, such as Jules Renard, Francis Ponge, Daniil Charms and Dora Carrington. Her own work, like theirs, is characterized by a certain lightness and playfulness. The attention she once paid to toys, animals, unusual words and no less unusual human behaviours in figurative paintings and wood cuts, and which she now pays to them in plastic prose, could be misconstrued by inattentive readers as being merely naive and humorous. Yet Mutsaers has never skirted around serious subjects. On the contrary. Her unyielding lightness is a ploy designed to crush heaviness, crudeness and ugliness.

For, as she puts it in the prologue to her book De markiezin, deep under the ground everything is working together to blow up your life as quickly as possible.

The young love of a fourteen-year-old girl for her teacher is the subject of Rachels rokje. What could be more playful, more naive? ‘Sensible writers are not generous with explicit descriptions of love,’ states Mutsaers in Kersebloed. They use the form to move you. Now that is truly moving!’ And that is precisely the feat she accomplishes in this unusual novel.

Little Red Riding Hood is a namby-pamby. If there is a God, he’s keen on divisive elements. We’re put on earth to wear a suitable skirt, and to go away again when the time comes. These are but three disconcerting propositions from Rachels rokje, a book that doesn’t really lend itself to being retold.

Strange ideas, surrealistic dialogues, the most peculiar processions of questions and comments that no ‘normal’ person has ever considered: these are the capricious leaps so typical of this writer, leaps taken to play a dirty trick on maturity and the logic of predictability. The pleats (instead of chapters) of this book fold around Rachel Stottermaus (an anagram of Charlotte Mutsaers), who is hopelessly in love with her teacher Douglas Distelvink, also called Skirtbelt.

In the last ninety pages Rachel must apparently answer to a number of judges in various sessions. These discussions reveal a suppressed feeling of guilt. Had Rachel’s father been a Nazi sympathizer during the war? Was Distelvink’s father, who had been killed by the Germans, a Jew? In the end Rachel no longer needs the judges (psychiatrists?) anymore, for she has flown the coop. In her skirt. On her bike. All that remains of her is this book, full of beautiful pleats.

Charlotte Mutsaers

Charlotte Mutsaers (b. 1942) is an author and visual artist who has published five novels and several collections of essays and poetry. Best known for her novels Rachels rokje ([Rachel’s Skirt], 1994) and Koetsier Herfst ([Coachman Autumn], 2009), she has won numerous literary awards, including…

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Rachels rokje (1994). Fiction, 310 pages.


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