book review: Willful Disregard

willful disregard

Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson. Other Press| February 2016| 196 pages | $15.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-761-1

RATING: ****/5*

“Since realizing at the age of eighteen that life ultimately consisted of dispelling melancholy, and discovering language and ideas all by herself, Ester Nilsson had not felt any sense of unhappiness with life, nor even any normal, everyday depression.”

Another wonderful, challenging novel that’s difficult to adequately describe. This witty, novel delves into a careful examination of Esther Nilsson after she meets artist Hugo Rask. Quite the intellectual, existential read about unrequited love. It should be quite relatable to many readers. We envision certain situations in our minds. We misinterpret signals. In this modern age everything and anything remains open to interpretation. The course of love doesn’t travel a straight path. Swedish Author and journalist Lena Andersson won the 2014 August Prize for Willful Disregard, her ninth novel.

Ester is quite a meticulous academic while Hugo Rask is a laid-back artist and long-standing bachelor who surrounds himself with young admirers. Of Ester, Andersson writes: “She would rather endure torment than tedium, would rather be alone than in a group of people making small talk. Not because she disliked the small-talkers, but because they absorbed too much energy. Small talk drained her.” When Ester lectures on Hugo, they get together a few times to talk and that progresses into a physical relationship. Ester latches on to this more than Hugo. She doesn’t embark on sexual dalliances lightly. Now she’s questioning the minutiae of their connection. Are they dating? Does he care for her? Should she make any assumptions about anything?

An early indication that it was purely a sexual tryst: “Hugo never followed up anything Ester said. Ester always followed up what Hugo said. Neither of them was really interested in her but they were both interested in him.” At another times there’s this: “They asked each other what they had planned for the day, in the way you do when you don’t belong together even though you are sleeping with each other, that is, when one party has decided how things are to be on that score but not said so openly, believing it is meant to be inferred.” Also this: “But why did he want to be physically intimate with her if he did not want to be close? And why those long, intense conversations over the proceeding months?”

I found myself marking many sections due to the sparse impressive phrasing and strong meditative nature. It’s fascinating to follow how Ester navigates her relationship with Hugo as well with her disposition and desires. A thoughtful novel about love’s consequences and perceptions.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

purchase at Amazon: Willful Disregard: A Novel About Love

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