This elegant and nuanced literary gem explores the intricacies of friendship, secrets, and two marriages, for fans of The Dinner and Dept. of Speculation.
"Often I am happy and yet I want to cry; / For no heart fully shares my joy." -- B.S. Ingemann
Ellinor is seventy. Her husband Georg has just passed away, and she is struck with the need to confide in someone. She addresses Anna, her long-dead best friend, who was also Georg's first wife. Fully aware of the absurdity of speaking to someone who cannot hear her, Ellinor nevertheless finds it meaningful to divulge long-held secrets and burdens of her past: her mother's heartbreaking pride; Ellinor's courtship with her first husband; their seemingly charmed friendship with Anna and Georg; the disastrous ski trip that shattered the two couples' lives. Wry and mellow yet infused with subdued emotion, this philosophical, lyrical novel moves in parallel narrative threads while questioning the assumptions we cherish concerning identity and love.
In Danish novelist Grondahl's stunning latest, a recently widowed 70-year-old woman reexamines her life and past decisions with sagacity and aplomb. The novel is written in the form of a letter from Ellinor to her long-deceased best friend, Anna, whose husband Ellinor married after Anna died. In it, Ellinor shares her feelings about their close-knit bond, the challenge of taking Anna's place after her death as a mother to her twin boys, growing accustomed to being Georg's new wife, and the decision to sell the house after he died. Some of Ellinor's complaints are par for the course; the boys are miffed she got a new apartment so quickly after Georg's death, for example. But a number of weightier matters are also addressed, including Ellinor's botched abortion and Anna's secret affair with Ellinor's first husband, Henning, just before she died. Toward the second half of the book, parallel narratives seamlessly emerge that add depth and an extra layer of sorrow to Ellinor's story, including the truth about her absentee father the German soldier her mother fell in love with during World War II and details about her ill-matched relationship with Henning. Despite the book's gloomy subject matter, Ellinor comes off like a beacon of strength with a firm grasp on reality. Plus, Grondahl has full command over his prose it's more frank than maudlin. What results is a compassionate and often edifying commentary on the elasticity of love, the strength it takes to move forward after a death, and the power of forgiveness.