Publication Date: 8th July 2021
I did the cheeky ask for this one when I saw it on YouTube. Any book that tackles difficult relationships is always a draw for me.
In Magma by Thora Hjörleifsdóttir (translated from the Norwegian by Meg Matich) we meet twenty year old Lilja, a woman who has fallen hard for a slightly older man who attends her university. The opening chapter details the fact that Lilja has given her new partner chlamydia and his disgusted reaction to this.
At first their relationship is somewhat casual. The narrative is told in the first person perspective of Lilja as she divulges brief snapshots of their difficult union, referring only to ‘him’ and never telling us his name.
He is a conceited and controlling man who consistently cheats on Lilja and makes very little effort to hide it. In fact returning home to tell her in detail who he has hooked up with. Lilja, for her part blames herself for his infidelity, believing she’s not enough for him in bed and berating herself for not making the effort to go out with him to the bar on that particular evening.
As the story progresses there are more and more red flags coming to the fore. None of Lilja’s friends like him and he’s sullen and rude around her parents and is resentful of the time she spends with them. He spends lots of his time chatting online to various women, again making little or no effort to hide it, and spending time with his ex-girlfriend who he won’t have a word said against. This man is the archetypal gaslighter and Lilja is far too forgiving due to her low self esteem.
As he makes her feel more and more worthless about herself and debases her with acts of sexual degradation, Lilja begins to self-harm and spiral down into a deep depression.
This is one of those fascinating books that drags you in with its short sharp writing style but frustrates you to the core when you read about smart young women who can’t see their self-worth.
The book is quite short in itself but the chapters are essentially very brief vignettes, almost snapshots along the timeline of their relationship. Each vignette is headed up with a different subject, for example ‘The Ex’, ‘Hygiene’, ‘Chlamydia’, ‘Anal Sex’ etc and deals with that particular topic. There are lots of very frank sexual details which can be quite jarring, especially as they are delivered in such a matter of fact unemotional, almost detached way. This only served to make me feel more empathy for Lilja, as she knows the things he’s asking her to do are not to her sexual taste and she’s doing them wholly to please him, as humiliating as that is.
As I’ve previously mentioned, books which revolve around these types of insidiously vile male characters who have a hold over vulnerable women can be extremely frustrating to read and this one was but totally kept my interest.
The writing is sharp and fresh and to the point and feels pacy due to the short vignette style. I really enjoyed it even though ‘enjoyed’ is probably not the right word in this books case!
Thank you so much to Katie Green and Picador for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx