Touching, heartrending, beautiful
In her previous novel, I.M. (1998), Palmen wrote an autobiographical ‘in memoriam’ about Ischa Meijer, her lover who had died suddenly, just before the publication of Palmen’s second book, The Friendship (1995). Meijer, a colourful journalist and a passionate, engaging, though tormented personality, is also the main character of Palmens new novel Sincerely Yours. Although Meijer, who was a nationally known figure, is clearly recognizable as Salomon (Mon) Schwartz, it wasn’t Palmen’s intention to create a true-to-life biographical portrait of him.
Sincerely Yours is resolutely emphatically a novel; one theme of the book is the relationship between life and fiction – a subject that Palmen first treated in her debut novel, The Laws (1991). Everyone’s life and identity is riddled with stories.
In Sincerely Yours the biography of Mon Schwartz is told through the stories of his many lovers. Mon Schwartz had a turbulent love life. He was a seducer like George Simenon about whom he wanted to write. A compulsive seducer who neither could nor wanted to tie himself down for fear of losing love and who therefore makes a game of it. There is a good reason why one of the sections of the book is called ‘The pathology of the theatre.’ Palmen sheds light on that particular stage from different angles. The reader hears the story of Lily, a prostitute whom Mon visited for many years, as well as that of Sister Monica, a nun with whom he sought consolation. Then there are the stories of Judit, an actress, and Saar de Vries, a psychiatrist – Mon’s last lover. There is also the story of the enigmatic C., the biographer who can’t say ‘I’, in which she tells about her friendship with Cis, a film critic, and Catherina, who turns out to be an infatuated and deranged stalker.
As well as this C. stands of course for Connie, the writer who unites all these contradictory characters within herself: the cool biographer who concentrates on facts, the critic who sees through the gloss of glamour, and the lover hopelessly consumed by longing who would above all love to say ‘we’ – but who can no longer do that. Every biography is supposedly something of a self-portrait – and in this respect Palmen shows she has carried out a thorough and no doubt painful self-examination. But Sincerely Yours is, no matter how seemingly recognizable as one, not a biography but rather a novel which is touching, heartrending and beautiful. It is only by means of the imagination that it is possible to live with reality.