Ted van Lieshout leaves the heat in the cemetery

In the beautiful chisel Ted van Lieshout is once again looking for nuances in the fierce debate on child abuse.

Lieke Kezer

Exactly ten years ago appeared my Lord, the first adult novel by Ted van Lieshout, an autobiographical story about the relationship he had as an eleven-year-old child with ‘Mr. Timmermans’. It received much praise from the literary world for the uninhibited way he portrayed the intimate relationship, but it also aroused some controversy.

Van Lieshout would not reject sex with children, perhaps he himself was a pedophile. For example, he was forced to explain that he is a victim and not a perpetrator, that he does not stand up for the interests of pedosexuals, but for children who are in danger of being oppressed.

Five years later, he described the impact of past events on his further life in Guilty child, carefully searching for the nuance that there seems to be almost no room for in the fierce societal debate about child abuse. That counter-sound, so subtle, so relevant, also sounds in chisel

As handsome as George Clooney

In it, fifteen-year-old Antonij is erotically fascinated by a man he finds on a swollen July day in the cemetery, which he keeps weed-free for a while. The man, Leo, in a crooked pose, chisels fine lines into a tombstone, the butt of his hairy buttocks tucked into the Versace underpants is clearly visible as he turns around, proving to be as handsome as George Clooney. Anthony: ‘I melted. Not from the heat, but from him. ‘ In Beitelaar, the boy reports that day, which completely derails, but not in the way one might think, and ends up with Leo being arrested by the police.

He’s a funny kid, Anthony, disarming like a kid, smart as an adult. He was abused in his youth when he was nine, when his mother asked him about the strange bruise on the inside of his leg, and he accidentally told that an adult relative had kissed him there. “I did not think it would hurt to say so, but then the world collapsed.”

In his diary, he describes himself as a garden where all the adults get to stand. “They cut down the trees because they want to get to the bottom of something. They can not see that all the plants are withering away from the bright sun and that there is no shade anywhere that I can hide. All the time I have to stand in the full, blazing sun ‘.

Young victims are often inadvertently left out in the cold

Children also need privacy, says Van Lieshout in his beautiful new novel, hysteria benefits no one, young victims are often inadvertently left out in the cold. So it is with Anthony, who quickly realizes that the conversations he has with all kinds of ladies, and where he is being sawn through about details that he does not want to reveal at all, are not for his own good, but for his own sake. . mors. ‘My mother needed help because she was the mother of an abused child and could not handle it well, which I understand, because such a thing is not taught anywhere. But it did not help me … ‘

And then there is the judge who wants to know everything, everything to let justice prevail. The interests of adults are by no means always in harmony with that of children in cases of sexual abuse.

Not a gloomy story, on the contrary

It all sounds gloomy, dark and cold, but it is nonetheless chisel not a gloomy story, on the contrary. Van Lieshout understands better than anyone else the art of pulling painful motifs out of the shadows. He wrote poems, stories and picture books (including the Boer Boris series) for children, often with the theme ‘being different’ and won many awards, including several Zilveren Griffels and a golden one.

His warm children’s book heart also beats in this story. It is the adorable Anthony who looks uncertainly at the events, other times with conviction, that makes you think about what it means to be a victim, or to be seen as a victim, about the rights and obligations of minors and their ( sexual) feelings, about the destructive power of the outside world.

And then there’s an intriguing underplot that adds an extra layer to the story and encloses a mysterious tomb that is said to contain a baby and an elderly lady who both died during World War II under strange circumstances. These different story lines are beautifully intertwined and created chisel to a full-bodied, round novel that demands gentleness in times when all reasonableness sometimes seems to have disappeared.


Ted van Lieshout
Querido, 176 pages, € 18.99

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