The little frictions in everyday life
Vonne van der Meer is clever at revealing the little frictions within everyday human intercourse and this places her at a lonely altitude in the Dutch-speaking world. Zondagavond (Sunday Evening) is more plot-driven that her other novels but it too involves a secret that a man has borne within him for far too long. It is an intelligent, subtle novel.
Robert Blauwhuis, seventy-two years old and for some years a widower, is visited twice a week, on Sunday evenings by his daughter Frederieke and on Wednesdays by Mila, a woman whose life he saved during the war when she was a baby. Frederieke and Mila they never come at the same time, since they consider themselves rivals. The more Robert senses that his end is approaching, the more he wants to free himself of a huge burden, a lie he has been ashamed of all his life. On this particular Sunday evening that point must be reached, and it is indeed reached, but not in the way he expects.
Van der Meer recounts the dramas of at least three lives. In using different narrative perspectives, she is able to make the reader feel her characters’ unexpressed mutual expectations and growing misunderstandings in a way that is dramatic yet understated. Zondagavond is about human behaviour, which in practice always turns out to be lesser than in the life of dreams, and about how we reconcile ourselves to this fact. His ‘daughters’ will have to forgive him, but Robert too will have at last to become kinder to himself. His inner conflict is fought out as he lies in a coma, with Mila and Frederieke on either side of his sickbed. (‘If hell exists, then it’s not a raging fire but the hiss of voices saying all kinds of things about you.’) Van der Meer writes subtly and sympathetically about the ghastly situation.
In her novels Van der Meer takes her characters on a journey, during which they search for the fulfilment of their dreams. Ultimately she teaches them humility. Her moral is always digestible, since it is wrapped in flowing and meticulous prose and in seemingly gossamer-light stories.