Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson (transl. by Sarah Death): None so blind as those who will not see

Cover imageI already had Lena Andersson’s Wilful Disregard in my sights but when Charlotte Collins, translator of the excellent A Whole Life, left a comment praising it to the skies on my January paperback preview it zoomed up my list. She called it ‘the cleverest dissection of misguided obsession that I’ve ever read’, a spot on assessment, I’d say. It’s short, but not sweet. Easily read in a few hours but be prepared to squirm.

Ester Nilsson is an intensely cerebral writer, dedicated to forensic enquiry and expression in her work. She’s lived with Per for many years in an agreeable if slightly dull relationship. When she’s commissioned to give a lecture on Hugo Rash, an artist lauded for the ‘moral fervour’ characterising his work, she spends a week researching her subject, becoming captivated by him even before they meet. He’s delighted with what she delivers, taking her out for a celebratory meal at which they discuss a multitude of issues, or rather she puts forward well thought out arguments while he replies with a rather disappointingly clichéd set of aphorisms. You’d think that would be the end of this mismatch but Ester is seized by a passion the like of which she’s never known, throwing over poor Per and embarking on a relationship based on midnight texts and long meals spent talking, all of which Ester sees as leading to an inevitable conclusion: a full-blown romantic relationship. There’s also a lot of hanging around outside Hugo’s studio, engineering meetings on the street and parties where his face falls with increasing regularity as he spots her.

Wilful Disregard manages to be both bitingly funny and excruciating discomfiting. It’s clear from the start that this is a hopelessly mismatched couple. Ester is obsessed to the point of derangement, gleaning hope from the barest slivers of encouragement, while Hugo is a man addicted to approbation, not much of a thought in his head in contrast with Ester’s endless over-analysing. Andersson nails this dysfunctional relationship beautifully in a single sentence: ‘Neither of them was really interested in her but they were both interested in him’. The ‘girlfriend chorus’ is wonderfully comic touch with their endless, patient litany of consolation, advice and gentle criticism which Ester never fails to interpret as evidence that she’s on the right track with Hugo. As the book progresses, Ester’s inability to accept the truth becomes more and more painful but it’s compulsive – I had to keep reading to see just how far she’d go and what would finally make her see sense. A smart, funny novella best read if you’re feeling happy in your relationship.

16 thoughts on “Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson (transl. by Sarah Death): None so blind as those who will not see

    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think you’d like it, Naomi. Sexual obsession beyond reason nailed perfectly. It’s a triumph!

      Reply
  1. Naomi

    What a great review, Susan! You have me wanting to read this now, to find out what happens to poor Ester. I’m cringing just thinking about it. And, what a good line: “Neither of them was really interested in her but they were both interested in him.”

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Thank you, Naomi! It’s a superb line, isn’t it – sums up the whole thing up beautifully. I hope you do read it. It would sit neatly alongside Junchiro Tanizaki’s Naomi which I spotted on your Literary Love post. I’ve added that one to my list but think I might leave it for a while.

      Reply
  2. Alex

    That line you quote is magnificent and sums up several relationships that I’ve watched develop between students I’ve taught (and possibly a couple Ive been involved in :-)).

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It skewered the whole dysfunctional relationship beautifully, Alex. It’s a painful thing to watch let alone to have been in. I hope you emerged without too many scars.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Absolutely! Glad to hear that about Little Egypt. I’ve only just started it but have high hopes – I’m a long term Lesley Glaister fan.

      Reply

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