Synopses & Reviews
When Johan was a boy, he bargained with Death, and in good time Death obligingly took his father. And when Johan was miserably married, Death kindly took his equine first wife, leaving him a tidy sum. But now, with the Reaper coming for him
, Johan cries out for certainties, for control, for dignity.
He enlists his adoring second wife, the grace of his otherwise mean existence, to be, “when he couldn’t fight any longer,” his reluctant angel of death. But as he drifts away into melancholic, hallucinatory recollection, the bonds of their mutual devotion gradually dissolve and the living and the dying begin their inevitable divergence. And as Johan, his wife beside him, slips under the solitary shadow he fears most, we are made to witness the muted tragedy of the Scandinavian way–now more and more our own way–of dying.
Linn Ullmann has written a haunting meditation on mortality that nonetheless pulses with the aching beauty of life.
"This slim, grim novel Ullmann's third tells a chilly tale charged with the moral ambiguity surrounding euthanasia. Terminal illness stories are often exploited for emotional payoffs, but Ullmann (Stella Descending; Before You Sleep) skirts the sap factor by casting a cold, hard light on her characters. The story begins in a doctor's office, where Johan Sletten, retired journalist and paragon of mediocrity, learns he has six months to live. As his health deteriorates, Johan muses on the major events in his life. His first marriage to Alice was almost cartoonishly unhappy, and resulted in a son he barely tolerates. Two years after Alice is run over by a car, when Johan is 47, he marries Mai, a 30-year-old pediatrician. Despite her brisk manner and penchant for unnecessary lies, she represents everything that is good in Johan's life. Through all of this, one detects the chilly side of Milan Kundera's influence; like him, Ullmann is a sharp chronicler of life's horrible ironies. The trouble is that no larger picture, no wealth of incident or even variety of secondary characters galvanizes this bedroom drama. Worse, the book's unidentified first-person narrator remains shrouded in opaque omniscience and half-amused aphorisms. Ullmann's exclusive commitment to exposing life's banality, combined with her condescending tone, lock the reader out of a story that was forbidding to begin with. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Jan. 27)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)