Lieke Marsman

The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes

On the Meaning and Consequences of Illness in our Society

An exhilarating encounter between poetry and the essay form

In The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes Lieke Marsman investigates through ten poems and an essay how a sick body relates to a sick world. ‘My little cancer book’ Marsman called it on Twitter.

But this essay is not just about being ill, it also delves deep into political issues that become personal. The book is a light-foot­ed rally against populism, against facile political assumptions about informal care and about the consequences of being ill.

At first, twenty-seven-year-old Lieke Marsman’s shoulder pain was diagnosed as a repetitive strain injury, she was a writer after all. But when the pain finally became unbearable, scans revealed a malignant tumour: a rare form of cartilage cancer not usually found in younger people. Behind her right shoulder blade was a lump the size of a grapefruit. Mars-man went under the knife a week later. Tumour removed, cancer gone, problem solved – except that her existence had been turned upside down. She decided to write down her thoughts and observations in order to give shape to the chaos she was caught up in.

Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals and Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag provided inspiration. In addition to accounts of their personal experiences, both books provide an analysis of the status of cancer and cancer patients in society, an approach Marsman also adopts.

The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes is not merely introspective, it is also a plea to look around and assume one’s social responsibility in a sick society. This essay is about much more than just a young woman struggling with cancer, it addresses the meaning and consequences of illness in our modern neoliberal society.

Ten poems and an essay about cancer, for which Marsman was treated. But it also about so much more: about loneliness, being on benefits, economic sensationalism in culture, and freedom of expression.

NRC Handelsblad

A very personal text with a high degree of urgency. Every word strikes home.

Meander magazine

‘I had already inserted myself into the common narrative of an overworked twenty-something-year-old. Successful career, hectic social life, high ambitions – aren’t these the signs of an impending burn-out? … Further tests were necessary, said the neurologist, but mine was not an urgent case. The waiting list for an MRI scan was about two months long, and I should prepare myself for the likelihood that nothing would be found.’

(trs Sophie Collins)


Lieke Marsman

Lieke Marsman (b. 1990) is one of the leading young talents in Dutch literature. Her unique style combines prose, poetry and essay genres. After her acclaimed debut poetry collection in 2010, she was considered a prodigy by many. Her first novel, The Opposite of a Human Being, published in 2017…

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De volgende scan duurt vijf minuten (2018). Non-fiction, 64 pages.

Full English translation available (Translation: Sophie Collins)

Themes: illness



Spinhuissteeg 3C
1012 CJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 6 82 98 15 53

[email protected]

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Literary agent

Lisette Verhagen Peters Fraser + Dunlop

55 New Oxford Street
WC1A 1BS London
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 207-344-1003
[email protected]

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