Posts Tagged Lena Andersson

book review: Acts of Infidelity

acts of infidelity

Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson. Other Press| April 23, 2019| 336 pages | $16.99| ISBN: 9781590519035

RATING: *****/5*

As with Willful Disregard, Swedish author Lena Andersson’s second Ester Nilsson novel, Acts of Infidelity, examines love and its complications, challenges and painful consequences. Writer Ester Nilsson meets actor Olof Sten and immediately falls in love with him. Olof isn’t exactly available, he’s married, but that doesn’t deter either of them from embarking into a relationship. Unfortunately, Ester doesn’t want to be the other woman, she wants to be Olof’s central focus. His one and only. Olof makes it clear that he’s not planning to leave his wife but Ester remains hopeful. “This was exactly what married people said when someone else had shaken their foundations, Ester thought. When people felt an intense desire, they might insist otherwise. The trick was knowing when they meant what they were saying and were saying it to be clear and honorable and when they meant the opposite. The question demanded a far-reaching and risky act of interpretation, work to which Ester was always willing to subject herself.” Unfortunately, Ester becomes Olof’s mistress. It seemed that unless she wanted to eliminate all contact with him that it was inevitable.

The overall darker tone and humor appeals to me. This novel is extremely relatable as is Willful Disregard, in which Ester experienced unrequited love. I often fall for unavailable men or those that just want to be friends with me or just have sex with me. When you’re emotionally vulnerable, it’s easy enough for men to string you along. It’s not that men and women can’t be friends. It’s just that if there’s chemistry or sex involved that definitely complicates things. He lets her know that he merely wants to be friends. He really likes her and wants to spend time getting to know her. But to what end Ester wants to know? When you’re a single woman over 40, how much time and energy should you spend on platonic relationships with men?

I completely empathize with Ester. We’re a lot alike in choosing inappropriate men or having bad timing in meeting men to whom we’re attracted. There’s also the over-sharing: “Those unlucky in love and of a certain temperament are compelled to talk about it, all the time and with anyone. Speaking eases the pain.” It’s this need to know that either we’re not alone in having these relationships or over-analyzing everything. It makes us feel better. When you’re insecure, you need others to occasionally remind you that it’s not you, it’s him or something like that. It’s also just a need to be intimately seen, to be cared for, to be loved. Andersson writes: “But what was the point of living if there wasn’t any hope for intoxication or vivacity? There was no point. You could only grind away because life had been bestowed upon you without you having any say in the matter.”

Olof possesses the arrogance and ability to take advantage of Ester’s vulnerability. He’s bold because he already has the wife, the long-term relationship. Anything that happens with Ester will be a bonus for him. So, they fall into an affair that’s extremely push/pull, stop/go, hot/cold. TOTAL MIXED MESSAGES. At one point there’s this: “The next morning, too, was devoted to erotic enjoyments.” And then this: “The absence of physical contact was worst when they had come so close to it.” Make up your mind Olof! It’s rather frustrating and I felt angered for Ester.

Eventually after this has gone on for years, Ester decides that she needs to push Olof to decide between her and his wife so she emails his wife. It backfires as Olof accuses her of being a stalker and calls her “psychotic, psychopathic and a crazy cunt.” Both Olof and his wife accuse Ester of mental illness and attack her reputation and character. He denies that he ever had an affair. He tells people it was a drunken one-night stand. In this patriarchal society with all the misogyny and toxic masculinity, people generally accept his version of events—“Because a man has urges that require his full stoic and rational powers to shut down, and a woman has her age-old ability to trick men into impregnating her while being irrationally unreliable, once was as good as never.”—which might be amusing if it weren’t so sad and true and disheartening.  Women get blamed and shamed and men walk away with reputations intact.

–review by Amy Steele

I received a review copy from Other Press.

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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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