Companions by Christina Hesselholdt and Paul Russell Garrett (translator)
|Companions by Christina Hesselholdt and Paul Russell Garrett (translator)|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Matthew Wilson|
|Summary: A playful and charming story of six friends bumbling through mid-life, complete with their bickerings, reminiscences, anxieties, loves and griefs.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 400||Date: August 2017|
|Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions|
Companions is written as a series of monologues, where six middle-aged friends take it in turns to narrate scenes from their lives, charting the intimate details of their holidays, dinner parties, families, marriages, affairs and work lives in a style that mixes honesty and openness with fantasy and evasion. The charm of the novel lies in the way the friends' voices bicker with one another among the pages, as we discover that there are always several sides to the same story. We learn most about the characters not through what they say about themselves but through what the others say about them. Along the way, there is heartbreak and grief, but this is always offset by an abundance of humour and a writing style that never fails to be refreshingly light-hearted.
The novel begins in the Lake District with Alma and Kristian, a couple whose relationship has long lost its romantic spark. First we hear the voice of Alma, who presents us with a litany of Kristian's irritating habits and wonders why it is that after so many years of marriage her stories always begin 'I went hiking in England' and never 'we'. Then the narrative switches from Alma to Kristian, and although Kristian's monologue confirms some of the annoying traits that Alma has warned us about, we feel pity for him as he explains how Alma flinches when he tries to touch her, now seemingly incapable of marital intimacy. Who's at fault here? It's never possible to assign blame, but as Alma's voice alternates with Kristian's, we are left with the impression that their marriage is breaking down simply because each of them is unable to understand the emotional needs of the other.
As we turn from frigid Alma and pompous Kristian to the bereft oddball, Edward, and then to the passionate Charles and Camilla, and lastly to Alwilda, building a new life out of the tatters of a previous relationship, Hesselholdt's portrait of middle age grows both clearer and more elusive; both more eclectic and more nuanced. This is definitely a slow-burner of a novel and one that rewards the patient reader. But the flip side of this is that, while Hesselholdt's writing is always effortlessly elegant, her plot is at times pretty tedious. The inherent difficulty of penning a novel about the everyday experiences of middle age is that ordinary life is often intensely boring! And plenty of life's dull moments make it into Hesselholdt's novel, which can make long passages of writing a chore rather than a pleasure to read. Sadly, the book's charm is frequently overshadowed by its monotony.
This certainly wasn't the best novel I've read all year, but there were nonetheless plenty of moments that made me chuckle, and lots of things in it that made me smile. While I wouldn't necessarily go running to the bookshop to get a copy, if you're looking for a story that is sophisticated and intimate, rather than thrilling, then this could be the book for you.
Companions shares many similarities with Virginia Woolf's famous experimental novel The Waves, another story about a group of six friends told through a series of monologues, so if you enjoy Companions then Woolf is definitely the place to go. But if you'd like to try a Danish novel with more thrills and spills, then I'd recommend Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen.
You can read more book reviews or buy Companions by Christina Hesselholdt and Paul Russell Garrett (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Companions by Christina Hesselholdt and Paul Russell Garrett (translator) at Amazon.com.
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