Language Without Me

In Taal zonder mij Kristien Hemmerechts calls herself ‘the inadequate ghostwriter’ of the autobiography of her deceased husband, the poet Herman de Coninck. Hemmerechts shows exquisitely how it is to lose the one closest to you and how he in his absolute and definitive absence, remains impossibly the closest. From the beginning Hemmerechts shows her awareness of the pitfalls of writing a ‘widow’s book’. ‘Keeping silent is safer than speaking,’ she writes, ‘I vacillate between the need to speak and the longing to be silent; to keep my memories of him, my Herman, intact through silence.’

She chooses to speak; after all, she is a writer. But she realises that she must weigh every word so that in that speaking the memory is not forfeited. In her use of language she assumes - perhaps for the first time in her career as a writer - the demeanour of a poet. This serves to avoid sentimentality, or at least to control it, and it brings her close to what her husband was - a poet. She treads the narrow line between the private and anecdotal, and the general and philosophical.

Hemmerechts uses De Coninck’s poems as the vehicle to tell his story; with them she is able to describe the biographical background and the intimacy of their shared life, while retaining the balance she seeks. The development in De Coninck’s poetry parallels the manner of his life and death. From writing poetry in which he never doubted his own ‘being’, nor the ability of language to give that ‘being’ form, De Coninck increasingly seemed to withdraw from his own poems, until only an ‘Empty poem. Language without me. Meaning’, remained. This is what his poetry will always be now for Hemmerechts; language without him. But it is within this that she makes clear what Herman de Coninck was to her.

Monumental is an all too obvious qualification for this book, which is intended to be a monument to De Coninck. It is more than a tribute to a loved one and a poet; it is a sincere work by a sensitive and powerful writer.

NRC Handelsblad

A moving and austere book.

Het Parool


Taal zonder mij (1998). Fiction, 150 pages.
Copies sold: 28,000



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