Personal tribute and testimony: the story of a great and ferocious love
Shortly after the publication of her first novel, De wetten (The Laws, 1991), Connie Palmen met the notorious interviewer and journalist Ischa Meijer. It was love at first sight. The success of Palmen’s début and her love affair with a celebrity made her a public figure overnight. February 1995 saw the appearance of her second novel De vriendschap, but a few weeks previously fate had struck a dreadful blow when Ischa Meijer died of a heart attack. Palmen’s new documentary novel I.M. (Ischa Meijer, In Memoriam, In Margine) covers these four years of her life.
Palmen becomes the chronicler of her own tragic love. The reader witnesses the moving account of a ‘terrible love story, because a great love simply does to this man and woman what all great loves have always done, by forcing them to confront the other side of their love, the pain, the anxieties and the helplessness.’ I.M. is a hymn to happiness that hurts and shows how the characters each overcome their fear of daring to know, and be known by, the other.
With sober directness Palmen recreates the many conversations between herself and her lover. Both carry notebooks everywhere and are absorbed in their work. During their trips to America it is business as usual, with Palmen writing her second novel, Meijer his daily newspaper column. Love and work overlap. I.M. contains countless interesting literary-theoretical pronouncements on the complex relationship between mind and body, fiction and reality, anonymity and intimacy. As in her previous novels of ideas, the motto ‘Comprehension eases suffering’ is a constant thread.
Slowly but surely I.M. becomes primarily an analysis of the complex personality of Ischa Meijer. This intense, excitable man, whose extreme behaviour and merciless interviewing technique made him many friends, but also many enemies, is shown as struggling with a huge fear of abandonment. The story of his childhood speaks volumes: with his parents he survived Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and after a strict Jewish upbringing found himself, together with his brother and sister, rejected by them. And though he hates his parents, he will always be looking for them and writing about them. During their conversations, with moving persistence and a great desire for clarity, Palmen constantly tries to fathom the mechanisms of his fear of abandonment. The ending of I.M., the actual In Memoriam for Ischa Meijer, is heart-rending. Palmen is not there when ‘stupid, inexorable fate’ strikes, and the subject of I.M. presents itself. The writing can begin.