Vonne van der Meer
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.