BEFORE YOU SLEEP by Linn Ullmann


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Norwegian author and critic Ullmann debuts with this intriguing, looping meditation on the history of the Blom family, told by young Karin in jagged, emotionally oblique prose. The Blom family comprises a slightly skewed group is recalled primarily through the lives of three generations of its women. The story begins with the wedding of Karin’s sister, Julie, to Aleksander in 1990, a ceremony 20-year-old Karin can—t take seriously, given her family’s luck with marriage. Karin confides her beliefs about the crucial utility of lying, and the entertainments of eagerly pursuing men, then abruptly rejecting them—a sensibility that is somehow strangely engaging. These curious attributes are the fruition of family tendencies, beginning with Rikard Blom, Karin’s grandfather, who immigrated to America in 1931, found immediate success as a costume maker, and fell in love with Selma, though he finally married her sister, June. Rikard dies as WWII ends, and June takes her daughters, Anni and Else, back to Norway. Anni grows up to be a stunning beauty, but her husband—a kind, distant, amused observer—leaves their family behind, after which Anni (whom daughter Karin considers entrancing and mad) continues with a series of male hobbies who occupy her love life. Meanwhile, Julie, Anni’s more introverted daughter, becomes pregnant and gives birth about the time her husband’s infidelities are revealed. Julie and Aleksander leave for an Italian vacation intended to heal their ruptured marriage, and Karin cares for their boy, Sander. In the Blom family, Karin realizes, emotional truths and external realities have never matched up, and she’s comforted to find that Sander represents one of the few moments in which “everything is the way it’s supposed to be.” Density accrues in vivid, impressionistically recalled scenes, rather than in sophisticated plot devices, and the emotional acuity is highly original, and often absorbing. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-88698-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999


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