Prizewinning Norwegian novelist Hjorth (Talk To Me, 2010, etc.) mines an inheritance dispute among four siblings to delve into the burden of family secrets and the ripple effects of early childhood trauma.
Bergljot, a divorced writer with three grown children, cut off contact with her parents years ago and has no expectation of being included in their will. But when there's a dispute over two summer cabins, she sides with her brother and finds herself pulled back into the family she has worked desperately to escape. "The street of my childhood," a friend remarks, quoting a Danish poet, "is the root of my being." Her childlike mother and her younger sisters want to deny her early abuse by their domineering father; her brother has his own damage to contend with. "What was it like to be a normal human being?" she wonders. "I didn't know." The strength of the novel lies in Bergljot's convincing and continuing vulnerability, in her mixed feelings and her flaws. "The presence of my lost childhood, the constant return of this loss had made me who I was." She hates her mother for not being able to protect her but tries to feel compassion, even for her father. The drama heightens—there are confrontations, an overdose, a death, pleas for reconciliation, a sealed letter in a safe—but it's her desire to be believed and truly seen that drives the narrative forward. There are no easy resolutions here. Describing the night outside the pizzeria where she finally meets her mother again after years of estrangement, Bergljot says: "It was the kind of darkness that falls, the kind of darkness that flows and spreads, that penetrates buildings and houses and takes over no matter how many lights you turn on, no matter how many candles you put on the table and in the windowsills, no matter how many torches you light...a darkness full of knives."
A cleareyed and convincing story of a family's doomed attempt to reconcile and the limits of forgiveness.