An intelligent, at times even intellectual, novel about philosophical issues of identity and moral responsibility.
Mia Halling is at her wits’ end with her husband, Frederik, for he’s recently been showing highly irrational and unpredictable behavior, such as being exceptionally quick to anger and calling her vile names. Frederik is the headmaster at Saxtorph, a prestigious school in Denmark, and seems to have much going for him, including a loving wife and a 16-year-old son. But during a holiday in Majorca, Frederik falls from a wall, and during a brain scan, it’s discovered he has a meningioma exerting pressure on his brain. Perhaps this is to blame for his increasingly erratic behavior? Perhaps, though his behavior has by now started to verge on criminal activity; it turns out he’s been embezzling money from the school and playing commodities markets with sanguine expectations of extraordinarily high rates of return. Jungersen has done impressive research on brain science and makes it clear that the symptoms Frederik experiences—including lack of empathy for others, childish behavior, emotional cruelty, sexual outspokenness and (supreme irony) unawareness that he’s even ill—threaten to tear apart the delicate fabric of his family life. At a support group for families with loved ones who have experienced brain injuries, Mia meets Bernard, a lawyer whose wife was injured in a car accident. Mia needs Bernard both sexually and in his legal capacity, for she wants to hire him to represent Frederik in a lawsuit being brought against him by Laust Saxtorph, the now-bankrupted director of Frederik’s school. When Mia and Bernard begin their affair, Mia starts to experience some of the secretiveness and indiscretion that used to characterize her life with Frederik, and even Bernard has some secrets of his own.
Jungersen writes brilliantly and raises knotty questions of identity—who, after all, is the “real” Frederik?—and of moral accountability, no matter who we are and what we’ve experienced.