I Thought That You

'I Thought That You' is about manipulation in a romantic relationship and a protagonist who gradually shows himself to be a toxic individual. The nameless narrator feels hard done by; he has a drinking problem and is prone to fits of rage. He is a painter who compares himself to Van Gogh when in reality he hasn’t got much further than an exhibition in a neighborhood restaurant.

Joke van Leeuwen
Original title
Ik dacht dat jij

He is drawn to Zigi, his new girlfriend, for her good looks and successful career as a classical violinist. She spends a lot of time rehearsing, which frustrates him — why isn’t she more available to gush over his paintings? ‘An artist needs someone who is devoted,’ he says, an implicit reference to Van Gogh’s sister-in-law, who made him famous.

I Thought That You only gives us his side of the story. We never learn the narrator’s name, but we do find out virtually everything else about him. In brief chapters of lucid prose crackling with hatred and envy, the failed painter describes his relationship with Zigi, his failed marriage and relationship with his daughter, the disdain he feels toward his parents and the rest of the world.

Though he leaves a great deal out, before long his tone, his arrogance, his sense of having been wronged by the world and his lack of self-awareness tell us more than enough. He’s constantly making excuses for himself — nothing is ever his fault. And yet you can’t help but get the impression that he is the problem. In his attempts to hide he is in fact giving himself away. In spite of it all, readers will find themselves riveted. His twisted logic, his way of thinking and talking — from his perspective, it all makes perfect sense.

And because his irritation with the little things in life is so funny and relatable, you’re with him right up until the next angry outburst, even as you want to shout at Zigi to get the hell away from this guy.

‘A razor-sharp portrait (…) The voice of this antihero narrator is as shocking as it is irresistible.

Het Parool

'‘I Thought That You' turns out to be more subtle and nuanced than it seems at first glance. Don’t be too quick to judge – this novel will get under your skin.’

Joke van Leeuwen
Joke van Leeuwen (b. 1952) writes prose and poetry for children and adults as well as working as an illustrator and performer.
Part ofFiction
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