In this debut from Stockholm-based writer Setterwall, a real-life relationship becomes the basis of a novel about anxiety, motherhood, and trauma.
Carolina is an adventurous concert promoter who falls fast and hard for quiet Aksel, a freelancer. "I'm thirty, and my love life is a mess," she admits, detailing her failed relationships and attempts to address bad romantic patterns in therapy. An anxious but eager girlfriend, she pushes the two across milestone after milestone while circumspect Aksel agrees to be pushed. "If I just wait a few hours, you come back," she muses. "I'm starting to learn your patterns. I'm starting to figure out how to exist in your world." But things shift when the new couple moves into their suburban Stockholm apartment and Carolina admits to wanting a baby. Despite Aksel's hesitations, Carolina resolves to find a way to both have a child and keep Aksel in her life. "Our negotiations are not beautiful," she recalls. "Neither of us ever leaves the kitchen table feeling good." Then, when their son, Ivan, is only a few months old, Aksel dies suddenly in his sleep. To cope with her grief, Carolina chronicles their relationship, from the day they first met until their son turns 2 and romance finds her yet again. Addressed directly to Aksel, the twin narratives of excitement and grief depict Carolina's obsession with both being and having this particular partner. Like grief itself, the narrative is exhausting and exhaustive, as Carolina accumulates details to learn more about her need to control relationships in the face of real or manufactured chaos. Her sentences are spare and simple, and they reveal a portrait of anxiety and control, grief and abandonment, that lasts for many painful years. "How can I hold onto you when you're not here?" she asks. "How can I move on without the approval of the people in our life who matter the most to me? The equation seems unsolvable."
An occasionally moving and tender work of autofiction that depicts the obsessive interiority of grief.