“We, who are no longer being loved, must chose between revenge and understanding, and I thought that, yes, of course the tow of you had to drift toward one another.”
This is a very short novel at 176 pages but it’s packed to the punch. It is literary fiction, full of self-reflection. Seventy year old Elinor’s second husband has passed away and we know he was married to another woman first, Anna. Elinor raised this woman’s children, as they were still young boys when tragedy struck. Now with Georg gone and the children grown men with families of their own, she decides to move away to a less prestigious area, one where her more ‘base’ earlier self would have been at home . Soon she is floating in memories of the before and after of meeting the exciting couple, Anna and Georg. The accident was loaded with shocking revelations for both Elinor and Georg, and through the shock of their separate pain they ended up together. Anna was her best friend who she shared so much of herself with, unbeknownst to her she was sharing her husband Henning too. She and Elinor’s first husband (Henning ) were carrying on a secret affair, both so much more alive and happier than Georg or Elinor. The accident robs her of the chance to truly know the whys of it all, and she is left to confront her tangled emotions within. Years pass and still, everything that happened is a fresh wound. Anna is like a shadow that follows Elinor through the years, as she stepped into her life.
I imagine many readers first reaction will be judgement (damning the cheaters) and while Elinor is filled with anger she can’t help but dissect her friend and husband Henning as she faces the things that she too was drawn to with painful clarity. “ I understand him, I really do. I’ve also warmed myself in front of you.” It’s such a painful experience having loved someone so dearly, and knowing that what you found charming and beautiful about your closest friend may well have been the light that drew your own husband to ‘warm himself’ with her. Honesty isn’t kind, and Elinor with her hard scrabble earlier fatherless years and later losses can’t neglect to see past the surface of understanding. “I understood far too much, far too early.” Elinor always felt herself less than Anna. “I can talk and talk once I get started, but you were the profound one. In tune with, well, I wouldn’t even know what with. With something I was never even close to understanding.” It’s not many of us that can think fondly of a friend, or spouse that has betrayed us so terribly, and with unalterable consequences, ones creating a different future than we expected, one we didn’t have a say in. That is love, as Elinor tells us, “we only have each other on loan.”
The subject is tough and while it’s a relaxed rehashing of a painful past, the ache is still fresh in her wise heart. I don’t imagine a young crowd would relate so well, at that age it’s hard to see past one’s own nose, as we age we realize the world isn’t fully in our control, nor are the hearts of those we love. Revenge is harder to grasp at when age offers wisdom we can’t dismiss (even if we wish we could). The original is dutch, this is an English translation released today, April 11, 2017