This year, among fierce competition, Dutch author Connie Palmen’s You Said It won the Libris Prize—an annual award in the Netherlands given to the outstanding Dutch novel of the year. You Said It is a fictive account of the rocky marriage between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The Libris Prize is the biggest literary prize in the country, its winners can expect a significant boost in profile, alongside €50,000 in award money. Palmen beat out five other short list nominees—judged by a panel of independent booksellers who highlight their novels in their shops—to clinch the award and cement the author into the Dutch literary hall of fame.
Palmen began her career in 1992 with The Laws, an intriguing novel driven by one woman’s search for meaning. A female student, living in Amsterdam, attempts to define herself through sexual and intellectual liaisons. Over the course of seven years she purposefully moves between seven male lovers, experiencing herself and the world through their eyes. Each of her conquests are academically brilliant, and include a philosopher, a priest and physicist. These men have chosen to follow sets of laws drawn from their professional lives and Palmen’s protagonist pursues them in order to gain insights into the principles behind their world views. She admires her lovers, but cannot help sensing their flaws, recognizing the limits of their thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes her encounters give her hope, and forward her journey of self-discovery, whereas at other moments she becomes completely lost, realizing that she cannot relate to her companions.
After The Laws was released Palmen met the renowned journalist Ischa Meijer, and the pair quickly fell in love. Over the next three years they shared a tumultuous, yet passionate relationship, until early 1995 when Meijer died from a sudden heart attack. Palmen used this affair as the basis of her third novel I.M (Ischa Meijer, In Memoriam, In Margine). In this semi-autobiographical work Palmen recounts her life with Meijer, soberly retelling the many conversations she shared with her lover. These exchanges deftly capture the harsher sides of love, showing that jealousy, resentment and fear are never far away from devotion. This tragic love story examines the reasons behind their confrontations, analyzing the traumas that led to Palmen and Meijer’s insecurities. The novel ends with a heart-breaking epitaph to Meijer, a conclusion that is anticipated from its opening page.
Her latest, prize winning book You Said It moves into historical fiction while continuing the themes that Palmen has been cultivating throughout her career. This lyrical novel gives a voice to Sylvia Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, recounting the couple’s troubled marriage. Famously, after he left her for another woman, Plath killed herself. Many people blamed him for his wife’s death, branding Hughes as a monster whose actions were tantamount to murder. You Said It recasts Hughes as a tragic figure, who was unable to save his marriage or prevent Plath’s suicide. Palmen has Hughes narrate his own misfortunes, exploring his thoughts, feelings, and motivations. The novel creates a convincing picture of a young couple in love, and soberly recreates Hughes’ enduring guilt.
While many of Palmen’s novels are available in English, You Said It is yet to be translated.