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Often I Am Happy by Jens Christian Grøndahl

Often I Am Happy

by Jens Christian Grøndahl

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In this very short book, Ellinor is 70 and is talking to her best friend, Anna, about her life. Her husband, Georg has just passed away, and she feels the need to divulge life long secrets and the weight of her past. The thing is, Anna has been dead for a few decades and was married to Georg before before the women met and became friends.
Ellinor's story unfolds and we learn how she stepped in and helped Georg raise the 6-year old twins and eventually married him. Bit by bit we learn about Ellinor's family, or lack of it and she reflects on how that shaped her life.
A quick read, it was very poignant and thought provoking. 3.5 stars
I received this ARC from Hatchett Book Group. ( )
  Dannadee | Apr 20, 2017 |
While reading this novel, I never got the sense that I was really understanding, really in touch with the main character, Ellinor. At times I wondered if it might be the translation holding me at bay, but in the end, I simply decided that this was just an essence of her character. Something in this woman, mourning the loss of her husband, addressing her best friend Anna (the first wife of Ellinor’s husband), that keeps her at arm’s length from the reader. It felt as if, even when she is attempting to be the most honest about herself and her feelings, there was something missing in her – something that had always been missing.

“I walked about at random from one neighborhood to the next. If it started raining, I would simply button up my coat and allow my hair to become wet. It always dries again, Anna. There isn’t a thing that doesn’t pass off. It strikes me that my account must seem sad to you but I am not a sad person, you know that. Often I am happy, as the song goes, happy inside, even if I can’t always show it.”

It’s not as if Ellinor cannot show she is happy, it seems as if she does not know what happy actually feels like. Instead of happy, it seems more accurate to say that she knows what the absence of sorrow/pain/unhappiness feels like, but not what experiencing actual joy or delight is like.

The book details the words Ellinor says/thinks to her dead friend Anna shortly after their mutual husband Georg dies. Ellinor truly seems to miss Georg, but again, in a more removed way. A way in which it is clear that she does not like him being gone, but not in a way that it seems as if she truly appreciated him when he was alive.

“I miss him all the time, but it is something different that I miss about him, at different times. His body next to me in bed, the sound of his steps, the familiar timbre of his voice in the familiar rooms. Without him, they’re just somewhere. His way of sighing, which wasn’t an expression of fatigue or despair but only, how to put it, a pneumatic effect of his composure. The sound of one man’s being in the world. A man I loved.”

In the end, I felt the book was more about her connection to Anna that Georg. Ellinor was married to Georg because Anna was married to him first. What Anna had, said, did had value to Ellinor. Georg was good as a husband because he had been Anna’s husband, because he was the father of Anna’s children, then Ellinor’s step-children. It seems as if Anna was the true center of Ellinor’s life, and her true grief goes back to losing her, and her attempt to recapture that feeling by taking on her role as wife and mother to Anna’s husband and children. Not in a scheming way, but in a way that is forlorn more than anything else.

“I miss him, my husband, our husband, I miss him so. There are times when I don’t know what to do with myself. That’s when I think that I’ve made a big mistake moving to Amerikajef. He would never find me here if he were to come back. I am not insane. It has dawned on me that human beings were never meant to reconcile their longing with reason, not at the expense of longing. As if I could love him in a lesser way just because he’s dead. That was never the meaning of words. That is why I am speaking to you.” ( )
  karieh | Feb 19, 2017 |
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Nu is jouw man ook dood, Anna.
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"This elegant and nuanced literary gem explores the intricacies of friendship, secrets, and two marriages, for fans of The Dinner and Dept. of Speculation.

"Often I am happy and yet I want to cry; / For no heart fully shares my joy." -B.S. Ingemann Ellinor is seventy. Her husband Georg has just passed away, and she is struck with the need to confide in someone. She addresses Anna, her long-dead best friend, who was also Georg's first wife. Fully aware of the absurdity of speaking to someone who cannot hear her, Ellinor nevertheless finds it meaningful to divulge long-held secrets and burdens of her past: her mother's heartbreaking pride; Ellinor's courtship with her first husband; their seemingly charmed friendship with Anna and Georg; the disastrous ski trip that shattered the two couples' lives. Wry and mellow yet infused with subdued emotion, this philosophical, lyrical novel moves in parallel narrative threads while questioning the assumptions we cherish concerning identity and love"--… (more)

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