I was recently approached by Duncan Lewis from Nordisk Books an independent publisher that specialises in translated literary fiction from the Nordic countries and asked if I wanted a copy of their new publication Inlands by Elin Willows. They also very generously asked if I would like a look at any of their other titles. I had a peruse and one of the books I was drawn to was Zero by Gine Cornelia Pedersen (and not just for its beautiful cover which is stunning).
When the parcel of books arrived I had a flick through them all and was instantly intrigued by Zero due to the fact that it’s written to look visually almost like poetry. I read a few random pages and knew that I would have to get stuck in! I treated myself to a bath and this book, which I devoured in one sitting.
We are told the first person perspective story of one (unnamed) woman’s descent into mental illness. The book opens from when the woman is a 10 year old girl and we gain a little insight into her slightly dark thoughts. Some of the things she says and does could be explained away as childish musings or simply testing boundaries, however it quickly becomes apparent as we travel through her formative teenage years, that this young girl is not well at all.
She is quite willfully destructive both physically and emotionally. She sinks into a myriad of toxic habits as her illness takes hold of her. She drinks too much, she abuses drugs, she purposefully puts herself in highly dangerous situations and does not appear to have any fear of the consequences, infact having what she herself considers a death wish. She has a series of high risk sexual encounters in the main just to be able to feel something. She falls in and out of love with such ease, bowling along from one ill advised relationship to the next.
She is eventually hospitalised in a secure mental health unit where she is given injections of a drug to ease the symptoms of her paranoid schizophrenia. She is not always a willing patient and often fights against the medical staff and their need to medicate her. She has a burgeoning desire to become an actress but feels that not only is she trapped by her manic mental illness she is also stultified by the medication which serves in her eyes to only subdue her artistic feelings and dull down her emotions until she almost feels nothing.
This woman is somewhat of an unreliable narrator given her mental illness. We are granted access to her troubled mind when she is having manic episodes, hearing voices, behaving recklessly. But also we are there with her during her slightly more lucid times where we gain brief snatches of the woman she could potentially be.
What broke my heart a little was the fact that we are drip fed fleeting glimpses of how difficult her illness is on her mother and how much her mother loves and worries about her. I cannot begin to imagine how upsetting it must be to see your child in so much pain and not be able to reach out and help them or even just protect them from themselves.
The end few chapters race along in a manic and disorganised way and I wasn’t entirely sure of what was fact and what was fiction. I think this worked perfectly to reflect the frantic disordered thoughts of our protagonist.
This book is by no means an easy read in terms subject matter, however it is cleverly paced and constructed in such a way that you feel you are right there in this poor woman’s troubled mind.
It is a very eye opening read and one that I would thoroughly recommend.
Thank you as always to the publisher Nordisk and Duncan Lewis for sending me my copy to review.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx