Let Us Together Say Farewell to Love
Attempts to disguise anger and grief
The title of Paul Baeten Gronda’s debut refers to the opening sentence of the celebrant at the funeral of the narrator’s brother: ‘Let us together say farewell to Roy Venkenray’. Roy was involved in an absurd accident and dies after a coma lasting several days. Had other members of the family shown more responsibility, he might have been saved. But mother Millie and father Staf were preoccupied with other partners, in a quest for happiness, and brother Gertjan was struggling at being an artist.
Narrator Max Eugène Venkenray spreads his story over three days, beginning with ‘the day before yesterday’, the day he turned twenty-one. He refers to himself deprecatingly as an ‘emotional gnome’ and a ‘worrier’, and distances himself from the great stream of life, being content with ‘superficial glimpses of prêt-à-porter happiness’. With an inheritance from his grandfather, he has settled into a hotel room and divides his time between his job as an airco technician, a sort-of girlfriend, and a friend called Jimbo who is a fan of heavy-metal bands.
Max’s light-hearted, ironic, and snappy narrative grips the reader right from the outset. Father Staf has tried to explain his dissatisfaction to his son and now Max’s story is permeated with the rejection of bourgeois life and particularly his parents’ lifestyle. But Max’s rejection becomes poignant when his father jumps out of a window in the second part (‘yesterday’), and ends up in hospital a year after his son Roy’s death, leaving behind letters for his wife and sons. The letters lead Max to revise his judgement of his father: ‘there was a chance that he was simply an unhappy romantic’ and he heads for the hospital to become reconciled with his father. But he is too late.
Max’s rejection of ‘the ugly game that you land in after a certain age’, both repelling and yet inevitable, is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The more the underlying drama of the family relationships becomes clear, the more Max’s cynical humour acquires an ambiguous undertone: his dismissive attitude conceals a longing for intimacy, and sarcasm is his weapon to pre-empt melancholy. His overconfidently chosen loneliness is an attempt to disguise anger and grief. With Nemen wij dan samen afscheid van de liefde (Let Us Together Say Farewell to Love) Paul Baeten Gronda presents the reader with a penetrating embodiment of the 1990s and through the eyes of an emotionally haunting character. The cynical humour makes the story all the more engaging.