Between Knife and Throat
A personal and disturbing report of a depression: the ruin and resurrection of a writer
In Tussen mes en keel, Geerten Meijsing balances high-brow philosophy with apparent banality. At the start of the book the narrator has a knife at his throat. He wants to take his own life because his girlfriend has rejected him and he feels misunderstood as a writer. The masterpiece that he has finally managed to complete, helped by a course of antidepressants, has been greeted by universal critical silence.
Provenier’s writer’s block is followed by impotence and his girlfriend kicks him out. Not even his weekly visits to his psychiatrist, Dr. Kirchner, and a hospital admission can keep his depression at bay for long. Provenier descends to the level of a hard-drinking stalker, despairingly lurking round his ex-lover’s front door and bombarding her with letters that are both besotted and enraged. His life has reached an all time low: ‘I was overcome by the grand mal. Writhing on the ground with foam on my lips, I bit my tongue and lips to shreds.’
Despite the merciless realism with which Provenier is depicted, there is a distinct romantic undertone to all this misery. Meijsing enjoys his melancholic exploration of the depths and has Provenier wallowing in his suicidal thoughts. He fights pain with pain, vanity with vanity. Tussen mes en keel abounds with delighted references to melancholic writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Schopenhauer and the psychiatrist Richard Burton.
Towards the end of the book the author introduces a twist to his story. Besides using Romantic literature as an antidote for Provenier’s depression, he lightens the novel’s darkest passages with black humour in short biting sentences. Dr. Kirchner has the bull by the horns when he remarks that Provenier suffers from ‘cheerful bitterness’. Finally, after one more suicide attempt and hospital admission, Provenier faces up to reality. The writer has led his alter ego back from the realm of the dead.