|(Thank you to Other Press for providing me with a copy of this book!)|
Winner of the August Prize, Sweden’s most prestigious literary award: a novel about a perfectly reasonable woman’s descent into the delusions of unrequited love
Ester Nilsson is a sensible person in a sensible relationship. Until the day she is asked to give a lecture on famous artist Hugo Rask. The man himself is in the audience, intrigued and clearly delighted by her fascination with him. When the two meet afterward, she is spellbound.
Ester’s life is then intrinsically linked to this meeting and the chain of events that unfolds. She leaves her boyfriend and throws herself into an imaginary relationship with Hugo. She falls deeply in love, and he consumes her thoughts. Indeed, in her own mind she’s sure that she and Hugo are a couple.
Slowly and painfully Ester comes to realize that her perception of the relationship is different from his. She’s a woman who prides herself on having a rational and analytical mind, but in the face of her overpowering feelings for Hugo, she is too clever and too honest for her own good. Bitingly funny and darkly fascinating, Willful Disregard is a story about total and desperate devotion, and how willingly we betray ourselves in the pursuit of love.
I had a friend in grad school who was the type of gal who would obsess over a guy. She would try to bump into him on campus or in town. She would playback their conversations over and over and over again. She would imagine their happily ever after. She would basically become devoted to this guy and their "relationship" all on her own. And in the end she would wind up heartbroken. You see, the guys never viewed their "relationship" in the same way and as a result they tended to flee ASAP. I could never understand why she would behave this way, especially, as she was such a smart and savvy woman in every other area of her life. This sad (and pathetic) behavior confounded me...until now. Turns out she couldn't help herself. Or at least that is what I surmised after reading Lena Andersson's superb novel, Willful Disregard.
Ester is a poet. She writes for various media outlets and lives with her partner, Per. Her life is pretty ho-hum, but she's okay with that. She receives a writing assignment involving a famous artist named Hugo. From the moment they meet, Ester is smitten. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him and even finagles another writing assignment that will involve interviewing him. Her mind is consumed by thoughts of him. Per notices Ester drifting away from him and confronts her. They wind up breaking up, but Ester doesn't seem to care - she's too busy pursuing Hugo. She is convinced they have a connection and finds herself waiting around his block so that she can accidentally bump into him. She relishes any look or word he throws her way. She imagines him thinking of her with hearts in his eyes. Ester is in LOVE. And after they sleep together, she is convinced that Hugo feels the same. Except, he's not acting like a man in love. In fact, if Ester would be honest with herself, she would notice that he doesn't really seem to like her all that much. Of course, even when Ester is aware of his snubs, his snobbery, and his discomfort she brushes it all aside and makes excuses for him. She refuses to face facts. She even ignores the "girlfriend chorus", because they are of the opinion that "He's just not that into you." Ester is the epitome of lovesick. Its sad, infuriating, and frustrating to witness. And, I loved it. I absolutely enjoyed reading about Ester and her pursuit of love. She was real, brave, and relatable. A smart, rational woman upended by her emotional response to someone - who hasn't experienced that? Not only did I see my friend from grad school in Ester, but I could see bits of myself in her as well. I may not have created whole relationships based on one conversation with someone, but I have imagined a future with someone that I've dated. Its human nature to love and to want to be loved. So, I suppose for some people, they just can't help how much they love.
Willful Disregard is a sharp, intelligent novel about obsession. The writing is sparse, witty, and precise - I fell in love with it! The characters are flawed and authentic. The story explores unrequited love in all its raw glory; which was both fascinating and cringe-worthy. Its truly a brilliant book and I absolutely LOVED it! I would happily recommend Willful Disregard to anyone and everyone looking for their next great read - you will not be disappointed!
Thank you to Other Press for providing me with a copy of this excellent book!