The Flight of Gilles Speksneijder
The tragicomic decline of a redundant man
Gilles Speksneijder, a loyal payroll slave in an anonymous administrative office, is the archetype of a man with no defining characteristics. Life just happens to him. He isn’t really a part of anything, and in life’s most crucial moments, his primary survival strategy is ‘respectable docility’. His marriage to Madelief, his struggling, overweight wife, is the result of her search for a ‘man was just as leftover as she was’.
One day while vacuuming, he finds a tiny screw. In Speksneijder’s world, this can mean only one thing: calamity is around the corner. The screw must have been rattled out of a device, and sooner or later an electrical wire would be cut, which would produce a short circuit, which would cause a fire, which would end in a fatal injury. In short, it was ‘something small that could lead to something big.’ Speksneijder systematically dissects all the appliances in the kitchen in search of a screwless hole, but in the end, all he’s left with is a collection of dismantled devices.
Under pressure from his superiors and seduced by promises of a bonus and a promotion, he accepts the position of assistant move coordinator. The company’s move, however, quickly evolves into a ‘transition’ and soon into a reorganization, pulling him farther and farther away from his closest colleagues. ‘Remember that the transition is motivated by the logic of development, not by the logic of normal propriety,’ his manager says.
With a keen sense of humour, Schoenmakers masterfully describes how, in no time at all, Speksneijder gets left behind. He cannot cope with all the power struggles and misunderstandings that come with the transition process, and he is forced to hand over the tasks of scheduling and writing meeting reports to his wife. In order to avoid any unnecessary delay in the moving plans, he even lets Melanie, the drifter who’s been squatting the building, come home with him. And to make matters even worse, a warm friendship flourishes between Madelief and Melanie, which only pushes him further into the periphery of his own domestic life. When all of his employer’s promises prove to be empty, and it turns out there is no room for Speksneijder in the new building, he realizes that he has deteriorated into a ‘residual problem, someone who, after all the sifting, sorting, weighing and judging, is leftover without a purpose.’