Many of Connie Palmen’s novels are based on events in her own life. I.M. (1998), for example, was written after her beloved Ischa Meijer died, while Logboek van een onbarmhartig jaar [Logbook of a cruel year] (2011) is about losing her husband, the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Hans van Mierlo. Palmen’s successful debut novel in 1991, The Laws, was proclaimed European Novel of the Year. When writing narrative she often rings the changes by introducing essay-like passages; on the other hand, her essays are often narrative in style. She herself calls her work ‘autobiofiction’. Her most recent novel appeared in 2015; Jij zegt het [You Said It], a novel that the poet Ted Hughes narrates from the afterlife. Her work has been translated into at least 20 languages.
You said it
Translated by Hanni Ehlers
Diogenes, September 2016
Original title: Jij zegt het (Prometheus, 2015)
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath formed the most famous romantic couple in modern Western literature. In You Said It the Dutch novelist Connie Palmen provides a voice for Hughes, who died in 1998. In the book, Hughes’s character looks back on a passionate marriage that ended on February 11, 1963 with the suicide of his wife. Hughes also looks back on his own life, which, from that moment on, would be dominated by her death. In the countless biographies of Plath, she is given the status of martyr and Hughes that of a traitor and murderer. He was reviled by strangers and even sued by people he once considered his friends.
Using great restraint and insight, Palmen describes the thoughts, fears and incantations of this husband, and his deeply tragic bond with the woman who would come to define his life. You Said It, ultimately, is a poignant novel about love and death.
'You Said It' is Palmen’s best novel.
Finally, you can only conclude that if all the writers in the Netherlands would write with as much courage, ambition, intellectual curiosity, arrogance, or rather, balls, as Connie Palmen has done, literature would be a lot more exciting.
Joost de Vries, De Groene Amsterdammer
Connie Palmen’s great strength in her well-written 'You Said It' is that you are immediately taken in by the voice of Ted Hughes. You forget that, in fact, it’s not his voice, but that of the writer. Then you have done your job as a novelist. Class.