‘Delusion is all that is given to us’ is the maxim Maarten ’t Hart gives Xenophanes in his new novel, and the villagers that ’t Hart creates in his sardonic Lotte Weeda do indeed become delusional. A woman photographer is chosen to make portraits of the two hundred most important inhabitants of the town of Monward (anagram of Warmond, where the writer lives) for a book of photographs. The narrator, a biologist and best-selling author of a book on sex called De roekeloze buiteling (‘The Reckless Tumble’), is under her spell from the moment they meet: ‘the Creator uncharacteristically outdid himself’. But he admires her work too: ‘She seemed to be trying to get to the true character of each person portrayed’. He agrees to write the introduction to the book.
It is only when the first victim in the book becomes a real-life victim that it becomes clear just how extraordinary the work of the photographer of Monward is. Initially, the first man photographed is ‘merely’ consumed, obsessed by the sudden notion that his children are not his own, and he eventually dies a tragic death. When one person after another portrayed in the album dies as soon as it is published, the community is in uproar. Even the narrator suffers one strange accident after another, and is unsure if he too is about to die.
Maarten ’t Hart was named ‘Gogol of Maassluis’ when he published his burlesque novel De vlieger (‘The Kite’, 1998), and this style is continued in Lotte Weeda. The absurd idea that a photographer possesses the evil eye lifts the drama of small-town folk to boisterous vaudeville. The author/biologist is shameless at pushing his pedantic vision of nature and human motivation. ‘I thought: it is good to realize that when dealing with love and eroticism it is merely your selfish genes wanting to reproduce themselves. No less and certainly no more.’ In passing, the writer also vents his spleen on the disastrous results of governmental delusions: when cattle become diseased, millions of animals are exterminated.