Wait, Blink A Perfect Picture of Inner Life: A Novel by Gunnhild Øyehaug

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What a typical situation that she should try to understand and understand and that everything should have meaning and more meaning, but that the only understand she could get was from a pair of eyes on the back of a book, or the stars over the mountains at night- it strikes her as she sits there with a book in front of her,  and the walls suddenly feel like walls and the ceiling feels like a ceiling, as sometimes happens when the magic of the moment when you feel there is hope disappears and all that remains is this: walls, and ceilings, and walls and ceilings. 

A story of intersections, this first English-language translation of award-winning Norwegian author Gunnhild Øyehaug has  gorgeous writing, the challenge may lie for some readers in how the novel flits from one character to the next. There is no denying the insights into each life, emotional states, longings, hopes, and regrets. The narration was difficult to transcend for me, which is a shame because the depths the author goes to in exploring what is happening in the hearts and head space of her characters is flawless. Take Sigrid, there is much amusement in her thoughts about the vulnerability of women in film and literature, and I’ll be damned if the whole oversized male t-shirt tidbit isn’t, in fact, true. The most important musings are really about her feelings for the author’s photo on a book and the fact that later in the novel they meet. Film director Linnea struggles with the frustration of what she wants to express in her films, the impossibility of it all, as with many of her wishes in life, as if met only by an insurmountable wall. As she longs for Göran, he too, asleep beside his wife, wishes he were in Copenhagen . Then we cut to Trine, the performance artist, regretting the aggression of her latest ‘artistic expression’. Why has she allowed herself to love someone? How will motherhood affect her art?

Then we flash back ten years ago to Viggo, crashing on his bicycle. Falling in love, trying to ‘unwind out of himself’, and then a loss all the while pondering on Dante. The novel does a lot of hopping around, which can lose some readers. There is a lot of thoughts about films, and the female’s role in them throughout, certainly something to chew on. A ‘quarrel’ between the characters Käre and Wanda about the relationship between the Bride (Uma Thurman) and Bill, a movie that has a lot of arse-kicking women, and how ‘conventional’ her admiration of Bill seems to be. But why is she, really, so bothered by this scene, why does it birth fears for her own relationship with Käre? Jealousy eats at her, though she is a sort of superwoman, strong-minded, like any other human being she has her weaknesses.

This book is steeped in self-reflection, Linnea longing over a past affair, when her mind should be on her film, Trine struggling with her art, now a mother, self-doubt overwhelming her, a sort of love triangle between Käre, Wanda and Sigrid. Käre isn’t sure of his own heart, but when he is, there is nothing for it, sometimes you have to break hearts for happiness. Then there is Viggo, lots of trembling for our Viggo, a character I enjoyed, and just who is this Elida, the fishmongers’ daughter dreaming of being in Viggo’s strong arms, treasuring his lost tooth ten years later? Maybe there are some happy endings here within, ” And one would wish that everything was like that, always. But then things always slide, out and out!” I wonder if there are other novels by Gunnhild Øyehaug that aren’t as populated, that doesn’t move too fast when you just begin to dive into the telling, begin to cozy up with the characters because her writing really is provocative. It’s simply a matter of feeling overwhelmed and dizzy with not being still long enough, and the narrator, thinking much of the time what is up with the narrator? Aw, it all makes sense at the end, but still… I’m not sure every reader will have the patience, I don’t know if something was lost in translation, or if it’s the style that makes it difficult to flow with. I enjoyed it, but keeping up was a chore at times. I would like to read another novel by the author because she clearly has a lot to say about love, the female role in life, and the general struggles we all face, how we are often in our own way.

Available now

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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