Joke J. Hermsen

So It’s Love

Tasteful and ingenious story

In this ingenious epistolary-cum-historical novel, Hermsen shines a fascinating light on the life and work of Isabella Tuyll de Charrière, better known by her pseudonym: Belle van Zuylen. She begins a personal investigation in the spirit of the eighteenth-century Dutch libertine author and composer into the moral aspects of marriage and love, then and now. From the very first page she draws the reader intimately into Van Zuylen’s mind, fluidly alternating letters, journal entries, and fragments of narrative, all relating to the events of a single summer in 1785.

‘So it’s love,’ the Parisian representative of the King lets slip, in an attempt to get his taciturn fellow traveller, a Swiss banker, to open up about the reason for his unhappy state of mind. It is September 1785, both gentlemen are on board a French three-master headed for America and both are running away from love. From passionate, impossible loves, to be precise. The banker’s love interest is none other than Belle van Zuylen. She and he had met two years earlier and the attraction had been immediate, but Isabelle was married and the banker was engaged. Nevertheless, an illfated love affair ensued and it was to have long-lasting effects on van Zuylen’s life, in Joke J. Hermsen’s mind, that is.

In summer 1785, Isabella flees Colombier, her dull hometown in Switzerland, and her equally dull marriage, for Paris. There she consults famous doctor and alchemist Count Balsamo Cagliostro, hoping he can cure her stomach ailments and ‘vapours’. She enters into intense discussions with the doctor on such matters as morality and happiness, circling the question that torments her: should one pursue personal happiness at the expense of the happiness of others? Only a passionate, deep love makes one really feel alive, but it carries within it a destructive power.

The structure — letters, novel form and journals — is a real find; it is how Hermsen makes the novel intriguingly multifaceted. It results in beautiful connections between present and past, winks and mirrorings, without any overlap.

Het Financieele Dagblad

Joke J. Hermsen has written a tasteful, ingenious story about the big mystery in Belle van Zuylen’s life, based on her writings.

De Volkskrant

So It’s Love is a lively and varied novel with a real, classic denouement, based on a disastrous misunderstanding.

NRC Handelsblad

Joke J. Hermsen

The writer Joke J. Hermsen (b. 1961) is one of the most prominent Dutch philosophers of her generation. She has a particular interest in time, memory and art, and has written extensively about the philosophy of Hannah Arendt, Ernst Bloch and Lou Andreas Salomé. Her award-wining essay collection…

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De liefde dus (2008). Fiction, 256 pages.


De Arbeiderspers

Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 760 72 10

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