If you love someone, they say, set them free. A couple decides to test the idea. It goes poorly.
This short, emotionally taut novel by veteran Norwegian author Gulliksen is narrated by Jon, whose marriage to Timmy has cratered. We know the end of their story from the very beginning: Timmy grows increasingly enchanted with a man she met at a presentation she gave, and though Jon doesn’t stand in the way of their early platonic outings (indeed, he gets a bit of an erotic charge from their relationship), he grows resentful once his wife’s emotions intensify. “It’s easier than you’d think to slip through the gaps, to go from one life to another,” he laments. It's hard to direct much sympathy toward Jon, though: After all, he abandoned his first wife for Timmy in an ugly breakup. (“I hope you’ll experience this yourself one day,” his ex fumed/foreshadowed.) But the novel sustains itself not so much on relationship drama but on Jon’s narration, which is nakedly unreliable, full of envious judgments and rash projections upon Timmy regarding her emotions and actions. (“She thought of the man she’d started to know. His neck, his arms, imagined him leaning over her.”) Jon concedes he often presumes too much, but by denying the reader any sense of Timmy’s feelings except filtered through a heartbroken ex, Gulliksen suggests that much of any relationship is built on our imagining what goes on in others’ heads. His prose (via Dawkin’s translation) isn’t designed to set off sparks: Gulliksen served as Karl Ove Knausgaard’s editor, and they share an affinity for flat, undramatic exposition. But as Jon careers from his own head to his estranged wife’s, Gulliksen reveals plenty of emotional storms.
An interior but engagingly complex study of a relationship hitting the skids.