The Looking-Glass Sisters
by GØHRIL GABRIELSEN
Translated from the Norwegian by John Irons
Written in 2008, published in this translation in September 2015 by Peirene Press*
This book explores the oxymoron of the abusive carer; bound by duty but fuelled by resentment.
The northern expanse of Norway is a land of extreme conditions and opposites, with long dark winters and summers of constant light. Here, a pair of middle aged sisters, living otherwise alone in this isolated landscape, have been locked together in a bitter power struggle for their entire adult lives.
The younger sister, our narrator, has grown up ill, confined to the house and often just to her bed. She exists in a world built from the pages of books and her own imagination. Her older sister, Ragna, has taken responsibility for keeping house and nursing her, yet their intimate relationship is one of mutual hatred and cruelty. When a man arrives to live nearby and begins a romantic relationship with Ragna, this warped sisterhood is further contaminated with jealousy and paranoia and begins to self-destruct.
The writing reflects the tug-of-war relationship of the sisters. It dances between the gritty, blunt reality of the body and the meandering poetry of a curious and creative mind.
The narrator is fascinated with words, they have a powerful impact in her limited, lonely existence. They are a weapon that her mind can wield when her body is helpless. I was particularly drawn to her game of dismantling the words in a sentence and rearranging them in a different order to create a sentence with an entirely different meaning, which must have been a particular challenge for the translator!
This is a brilliant, twisted and totally original story- the ending especially, I thought was stunning.
“The Sky, the darkness, the stars in infinite space: no I’m not hollow. I’m full of possibilities and the strangest experiences.”
*Peirene Press is a boutique publishing house which specialises in publishing award-winning and bestselling, modern European novellas or short novels in high-quality English translation. Interestingly, they only publish works that are under 200 pages long and can be consumed in the same length of time as it takes to watch a film.