The blurb for Swedish writer Johanna Hedman’s The Trio put me in mind a little of Liza Klaussmann’s slightly disappointing This is Gonna End in Tears which I reviewed last week. Both feature a group of close friends revisited later in life, which is what attracted me, but that’s where the similarity ends. As you’ll have gathered from the title, Hedman’s novel is about three young people – two already the closest of friends – who form a close bond when Hugo becomes a lodger in Thora’s house.
There was a quiet intimacy between them, so palpable that the air seemed to grow denser when they were together.
Hugo lodged with Thora’s parents when he moved to Stockholm from Berlin to study political science. The child of academic parents, he’s a little disorientated by the Stiller family’s privilege and wealth despite their distancing of themselves from the way that money was made. A recent book about the source of their power and affluence has caused quite a kerfuffle in this household labelled ‘bourgeois bohemian’ by August, Thora’s dearest friend and sometimes lover. Hugo remains outside the orbit of these two for some time, observing their intimacy with fascination and a tinge of envy, gradually drawn into it until he’s unsure whether it’s Thora or August he loves. When he and Thora eventually begin a relationship, it’s hardly acknowledged by either of them except when they’re alone and even then, only with ambivalence. Several years pass which see August give up his advertising job to pursue his art, Thora take up a place in law school determined to be independent of Stiller money and Hugo offered a coveted position in New York. Decades later, Thora and August’s daughter rings Hugo’s bell with questions to ask about her mother.
It was as if I was watching us all from the outside. I couldn’t grasp that these were our real lives and that they couldn’t be done over again if something went wrong.
The blurb that persuaded me to read Hedman’s novel mentions André Aciman and Deborah Levy in its comparisons but it’s Sally Rooney’s writing that sprang to mind for me. The complicated relationship between Hugo, Thora and August is beautifully portrayed, full of tensions and competing dynamics yet intensely intimate, while Thora and Hugo’s affair, if you can call it that, screamed Normal People at me. These are complex characters: Thora, distant, cold and self-contained yet deeply dependent on August’s affection; August, warm, open and loved yet given to episodes of depression and Hugo, fascinated by the bond between these two yet unable to quite shrug off his habitual role as an outsider. Very much a novel about relationships, it’s underpinned by a political awareness of privilege, morality and the power that springs from wealth. The only part that didn’t quite work for me was its bookending by two short sections set in New York. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this accomplished novel which leaves much for readers to infer.
Hamish Hamilton: London 9780241551660 336 pages Hardback (Read via NeGalley)