Vonne van der Meer

Personal Injury

How much is an unlived life worth?

A young woman ends up in a wheel­chair due to a manufacturing defect in her skis. Her lawyer pursues the highest possible compensation. It’s a straightforward conceit that Vonne van der Meer takes into an unexpected direction. In Personal Injury, the way we see ourself clashes with the view of outsiders. Who or what determines the value of an unlived life?

Lucia Terbrugge, age 23, is recovering in a luxurious rehabilitation center by the sea. After a skiing accident she has become paraplegic and will never walk again. Her parents enlist the help of Anton Palthe, a personal injury lawyer on the brink of retirement, who wants to demand an extremly high compensation figure. With a doggedness that’s in part an effort to distract himself from his lonely life as a widower, he sets out in his compensation claim how Lucia’s past as a law student and the child of well-to-do academics was a guarantee for a bright future that’s been stolen from her. It is Lucia’s social capital that determines the amount of the injury claim.

While her friends go out to bars, have flings and cram for their exams, Lucia is stuck in her wheelchair listening to the kinds of stories in which she used to play a leading role. She sees less and less of her friends, who feel guilty telling Lucia about things she’ll never be able to do again. The only person she can confide in is Ferry, who is in the same situation. But where Lucia is able to recover in a swanky rehab center, Ferry is stuck in his mom’s no-frills apartment.

As the lawyer reads his report to Lucia, she reflects on her life and comes to com­pletely different conclusions about her imagined future. She pushes back against this glamorous version of herself and starts rewriting her compensaton claim, taking responsibility for her new life. The narration alternates between Lucia and Anton, in compelling and wholly natural prose. Both characters take back control over their own lives. Vonne van der Meer skilfully combines their memo­rable voices into a gripping, layered and entirely credible novel.

Personal Injury shows how one decision can have far-reaching consequences (…) This book has both literary and moral merit. It’s a refreshing message in a time when victimhood and finger-pointing seem to be all the rage. Personal Injury makes a case for accepting the vagaries of life.’

de Volkskrant

‘Writing about serious issues in a light-hearted, almost laconic tone is a rare skill, but Vonne van der Meer has it down to a T (…) This book, with its simple but elegant design, is a real gem.’

Limburgs Dagblad

‘A sparkling novella that keeps surprising right through to the end.’

HP/De Tijd

Vonne van der Meer

Vonne van der Meer (b. 1952) has written fourteen novels, several short story collections, novellas and plays. The novel Eilandgasten (Island Guests, 1999) and the two sequels De avondboot (The Evening Boat, 2001) and Laatste seizoen (Last Season, 2002) introduced her to a large audience. She has…

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Letselschade (2022). Fiction, 108 pages.
Words: 25,384

Sample translation

English (PDF document)


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