Memoir as confession—a powerful, psychologically astute work of self-examination and remembrance.

THE COPENHAGEN TRILOGY

CHILDHOOD; YOUTH; DEPENDENCY

The noted Danish novelist and poet delivers a rueful, self-excoriating account of a life of self-doubt, misery, and addiction.

“I do whatever I can to please him, because I’m so thankful he married me. Although I know something still isn’t quite right, I carefully avoid thinking about that.” So writes Ditlevsen in the third part of this autobiographical trilogy, written between 1969 and 1971. It’s not so much that she was dependent on the men in her life, none of them quite right for her, but instead on the drugs and alcohol that overtook her. One partner who injected her muttered that her veins were clogging up, adding, “Maybe we can find one in your foot.” Ditlevsen traces an unhappy present—much of the later narrative is set at the time of the German defeat in World War II, the streets of Denmark’s capital full of child soldiers in Wehrmacht uniforms—to a childhood of discouragement (her father insisted that “a girl can’t be a poet”) and a youth in which she was convinced that she was “condemned to loneliness and anonymity.” For all the self-doubt and later chemical abuse, however, she did rise as a poet even if getting published was full of the usual roadblocks—and more, as when she writes that an editor who accepted her work “pats me on the behind, absent-mindedly and mechanically.” A rare humorous moment comes when, after drunkenly choking down a fistful of methadone pills, she asks the visiting English writer Evelyn Waugh what brought him to Denmark: “He answered that he always took trips around the world when his children were home on vacation from boarding school, because he couldn’t stand them.” Given the mostly grim revelations in her book, it’s small wonder that Ditlevsen came to an unhappy end, though not before publishing some of the most memorable works in modern Danish literature.

Memoir as confession—a powerful, psychologically astute work of self-examination and remembrance.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-3746-0239-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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