|The Other Woman / Therese Bohman; trans. from|
the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
NY: Other Press, 2015, c2014.
But this is so very much more than simply an apologia for affairs. We meet our narrator as she heads to work; she's currently a hospital cafeteria server. It's a menial job for sure, but she's working at what she can in her small town of Norrkoping, while dreaming of becoming a writer, of going to Stockholm to college.
She's clearly intelligent, sarcastic, clever -- but there's some level of stagnation going on, she can't push herself to change. She criticizes everyone, including her friends, for their acceptance of everyday life; she reads Notes From the Underground and sees herself in it, she likes men and masculine writing, and dismisses feminism since she likes to dress up and attract men & can't see how that's compatible.
She sounds very believably young.
And into this dull life comes an attractive doctor. She meets his eye while serving him lunch, and he comes around more often, and offers her rides home on rainy nights. And inevitably, they start an affair. She doesn't mind that he's married, until she does. And the affair is steeped in issues of power, class, work, self-identity, and pretty much every single part of her life.
Meanwhile she meets a young woman, Alex, at a party. Alex begins to become a big part of her life; she even thinks that Alex might be in love with her. But when she discovers who Alex is and why she's worked to become friends with her, it changes everything.
I wasn't sure where this was going. About halfway through I was annoyed with the characters and feeling like this was going down a well-trodden path, I was slightly bored by how I thought it was all going to end. But I was wrong.
It turns a corner, and suddenly the power differential shifts, and our narrator suddenly grabs on to some sense of self. She makes a choice, she's shaken out of her paralysis. And the ending is hopeful, positive and satisfying. It didn't come about in an obvious way, rather a pretty shocking one, but it changes her. And the gloom and night settings of most of the early book are washed away in the hope of summer and transformation.
I really enjoyed this book, the writing is clear and the translation is smooth. The character starts out as a bit insufferable but grows throughout. It reads very quickly and you just don't want to put it down until you know what she's going to do. I felt immersed in her world while reading and was glad to see her future looking better than her present. That's always a good sign, when you close the book happy for the characters!
My overall impression is that this read was really satisfying, both in the emotional arc of the story, and in the intellectual engagement with the main character's self-examination and her studies.