Wilful Disregard is Lena Andersson’s fifth novel and winner of the prestigious August Prize in Sweden in 2013. On the 28th January this year it was published in the UK by Picador, translated by Sarah Death. Its tagline is ‘A Novel About Love’ and with it Andersson has produced a fascinating mediation on love and how it can control us.
‘Every evening around midnight he would send a friendly line that she read the instant it arrived. In the bed beside her lay a human being who did not exist’
The novel begins by introducing us to Ester Nilsson, a poet and essayist. She lives a seemingly normal, sensible lifestyle with a serious long term relationship. However she one day receives a phone call which leads to a series of events which change the course of Ester’s life. She is asked to present a lecture on a renowned artist, Hugo Rask. It soon becomes apparent that there is an attraction between Ester and Hugo, an attraction that threatens the stability in Ester’s life.
‘Happiness seldom exists in the experiencing of happiness. It resides in the expectation of happiness and almost only there.’
Soon Ester falls in love with Hugo and in doing so she leaves her long term boyfriend and her past behind. But as her feelings for Hugo intensify there are doubts as to whether these feelings are reciprocated. Ester becomes obsessed and begins to question Hugo’s every move, questioning whether what they have is just an affair or the true love she craves. The power in this story lies with Andersson’s portrayal of one woman’s raw emotions. Until Hugo had appeared in her life everything seemed set in place but his arrival brought her life and future in to question. It shows the power that love can have over a person and how we can easily betray ourselves in our quest for it.
“…everything that is done has its origins in a thought, a feeling, good or bad, but everything comes from something, and everything is of some sort”
Wilful Disregard is a relatively short novel at just under two hundred pages in length which I finished in one sitting. I found it to be compelling reading and there was a lot within its pages that I could relate to. It is a sharp and observant look at love and obsession. It explores what happens when two people meet that have different mindsets, trying to address the balance between independence and the desire for a relationship. There are moments here that are sad as we see a lovesick Ester in her pursuit of a distracted Hugo. However, there is a biting humour to the story that makes for an entertaining read.
‘Hope is a parasite on the human body, which lives in full-scale symbiosis with the human heart’
I enjoyed reading Wilful Disregard and consider it to be well worth a read. It is a wise and witty story that perfectly captures the struggles we face in pursuit of love.
Wilful Disregard was published in the UK on 28th January 2016 by Picador. Many thanks to Katie Green at Picador for providing a copy for review.