This was the first novel I dove into from a Danish writer, Christian Jungersen. Admittedly, most of my reading has been from American or British born writers, and while it was translated into English, it was interesting to get a different cultural take on the created world. I don’t remember where I initially came across the book, but I’m sure it was something related to LitReactor or GoodReads based on what I’ve already read.
Mia is married to Frederik and mother to a teenage son, Niklas. The story starts with them on vacation in Spain, Frederik driving like a madman. They crash, survive, and when Mia is letting her displeasure be known, Frederik falls off a cliffside. There’s a panicked rush to a foreign hospital, guilt, anger, and surprise when the doctors let Mia know, while her husband will live, he has a brain tumor that’s been growing for a while. It’s altered his personality and capabilities and will need surgery.
They return home to Denmark and wait for Frederik to become well enough to have surgery. Mia becomes immersed in a world of brain injury studies, support groups, online research, and more. The technical aspect of the novel was excellent. It was educational without being overt, and I felt the occasional research article or news article included between chapters added to the overwhelming situation Mia finds herself in–now suddenly being in a world where she’s a caretaker and forced to put any of her needs or ideas of a normal life aside.
What I had some issue with, however, was Frederik. He’s a cliche. Before the accident, he’s an impressive headmaster at a private school, an absent father, and a very poor husband, with at least two affairs that are discussed. After his surgery he becomes the petulant child with weird obsessions, crude manners, and complete disregard for anyone else’s thoughts or needs. He comes across as a Mad Man-esque character, where he’s revered and worshipped in the story but in this day and time would probably be seen more as arrogant and certainly a misogamist. And worse, his parents think he’s the greatest creation of mankind. It’s more than a little frustrating, but it’s also pretty obvious Frederik is not someone we’re supposed to like, but can we avoid every overused reason to man-hate possible next time?
I’m all for the one you root to hate or fail, but I’m not for making every major male character in the story a source for gender bashing. It’s cheap in the same way that making every female character center around finding love or getting through the walls of the broken man who just needs the right woman for everything to be okay. I want to hate a character for his or her actions and soul, not that his traits are all stereotypically “male.”
Mia is more complicated. She’s filled with guilt about what a divorce would do to her son, concerned with how it would look to their friends and family, and ultimately what would become of her. Frederik has subdued her over the years, molded her into his version of a subservient wife, and twenty years into a marriage, she seems quite lost now that she’s the only one in charge. She’s desperate for an ideal that never existed outside her mind, and she’s trapped by obligation to her brain injured husband. She’s a bit tragic in a Shakespearean way, minus the fact that she doesn’t die at the end. So many of her troubles are a direct result of the decisions she’s made, and no matter what she tries to do to get out of her own way, she ends up digging herself in deeper. She’s tormented by her own thoughts and feelings, and she really doesn’t know how to get out from under them. There’s this recurring message (in fact it could have been said outright fewer times and been more impactful) that Mia and Frederik belong to one another, that they’re some sort of twisted soulmates and that’s their reality for eternity. It pulls at her constantly and her actions are heavily influenced by the idea.
The events that unfold lead us to Frederik putting his family in even greater jeopardy because he embezzled millions of crowns from his school, but while he had the brain tumor and before the accident revealed anything was wrong with him. He’s fired, arrested, their family is ostracized, and a process begins about building a case for him to be not guilty because of his brain tumor. There are evaluations from various angles about what kind of person Frederik was when he was healthy and who he became as a result of the tumor. It leads to multiple questions about who truly has free will, how much of our life is determined by factors beyond our control, and what does it mean to be in control of our lives. I like it when a book makes me consider themes in my own life and this one definitely does that.
I’ve seen this book described as a thriller, and I’d disagree. I’d called it more of an adult drama. The questions raised are those of moral obligation, what constitutes as a person’s soul or control over their destiny, and what makes a person’s personality their true self.
While there were times I wanted to slap Mia and tell her to get her head out of her ass, I understood her struggle. She’s not a character similar to myself, but I think it’s good to gain an understanding of a different perspective. I read to broaden my view and understanding of the world, and if that’s what you’re looking for, this will add value. It’s not something I’ll go back to over and over as one of my favorites, but it was worth the price of the book and the time I spent reading it.