Award-winning Danish author Hesselholdt paints a composite portrait of six well-read, well-traveled friends at middle age in this novel, her first to be translated into English.
A Danish couple on a trip through the Lake District in England watch their landlady feeding leftovers to a family of badgers. The animals, practically blind, "munched on the bones." "Of course," our narrator of the moment, one of the six eponymous companions, tells us, "I was reminded of how in the past, when the woods were teeming with badgers, people filled their boots with charcoal when they were hunting because badgers bite until they hear a crunch." A blend of arresting detail, digression, and erudition tinged with nostalgia characterizes this novel, which ranges back and forth between different points of view, through chapters with titles such as "The Houses and Their Brilliant Suicide Victims," "The Hair in the Drawer," "Bernhard's Shoes, a Note," largely unbothered by conventional concerns with plot or narrative momentum. Much of the pleasure here comes from the unhurried accumulation of moments and the intersections between the companions' lives. The characters—Alma, Kristian, Edward, Camilla, Charles, Alwilda—are thoughtful and articulate, given to quoting Osip Mandelstam and Colette and musing about loneliness and mortality. More trips are taken, to Virginia Woolf's house and to Sylvia Plath's. Marriages fail, among them the badger-watching couple's. Their friend Camilla's mother dies, in bed with her glasses on, and Camilla is consumed by a grief familiar to Edward, whose own parents committed suicide and left him to find their bodies. Toward the end of the book, the friends, dining together, converse in apparent non sequiturs. " 'This cod is delicious.' 'Yes, it's difficult being human, Camilla, for me too,' Kristian says."
Both the difficulty and the pleasure of being human shine through in these pages.