Monday, 29 March 2021

#CBR13 Book 11: "Full spredning: en legeroman" (Natural Causes) by Nina Lykke

Page count: 282 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Elin has worked as a GP in the centre of Oslo for more than two decades. She's married to Aksel, an orthopedist who seems obsessed with either cross country skiing in the winter and roller skis in the summer. They met during med school, and have lived in the same house long enough to see the little residential area that used to be full of idealistic and progressive residents become distinctly upper-middle class (as have they). They are now empty nesters after their two daughters (also medical students) moved away. 

However, at the moment, Elin is literally living in her office  She's sleeping in a chair or on her examination table, sneaking out in the mornings and evenings to wash in the employee bathroom. She's refusing to answer texts or calls from her irate husband, her concerned neighbour and sometime drinking buddy, or her lover, having moved out after her husband discovered that she's been having a year-long affair with Bjørn, her ex-boyfriend from before she met Aksel. Since Bjørn seemed rather freaked out about the revelations that their affair was out in the open, he seems to have decided to just stay with his wife, so Elin is feeling abandoned and even more disillusioned with life and people than she did before she stumbled into her affair. 

A bit over a year ago, Elin added Bjørn as a Facebook as a drunken impulse one evening. Back then, she would go through the motions with her patients in the office all day, then go buy a box of white wine on the way home, and spend her evenings and weekends drinking heavily and binge-watching television, while her husband focused on his skiing. Once she and Bjørn actually met up again, after decades apart, and she discovered just how much chemistry there still was between them, she replaced the heavy drinking with another obsession, her secret love affair with her ex. 

Literally translated, the title for this book means "Complete (or total) spread" and the subtitle is a "doctor novel". Traditionally, 'doctor novels' are a subsection of romance novels in Norway, starring handsome doctors and nurses who find love while saving the lives of their poor patients. 'Total spread' is also the term used to cancer patients when the disease has taken over and spread throughout the body, making the disease inevitably terminal. So the author uses a common term associated with a devastating cancer diagnosis, coupled with an ironic subtitle - this book is pretty much the opposite of brave, selfless, and altruistic doctors finding love while caring for the less fortunate. Instead, our protagonist is a fifty-something pessimist whose internal monologue (so much of this novel is told in internal monologue or flashbacks) constantly makes her indifference, if not her outright disdain for her patients and vocation very obvious. Going through a kind of midlife crisis, experiencing the consequences of being caught in an affair - the title very much gives a lie to the contents of the book.

Considering my rather impressive reading slump and how difficult it is for me to pick up a book and read it (even listening to an audiobook feels like far too much effort than I'm able to give, most of the time), the fact that I not only read the whole book, despite low-key resenting our protagonist throughout is certainly some testament to the author's ability to keep me curious. This novel has generally received rave reviews from not only Norwegian book reviewers, but the book has been translated into multiple languages and won both Norwegian and international book awards.

Pretty much every time I try to read an acclaimed literary novel, it just proves to me that I'm much happier reading speculative fiction, be it romance, fantasy, or science fiction. I'm sure this book was a satirical masterpiece, showing us the petty complaints of most patients nowadays, not to mention how incredibly first world the so-called problems of well-to-do doctors are. It was a well-written book, I suppose, but it was just so bitter and the tone throughout was generally nasty, I'd much rather read a romance (and will, as a palate changer). The fact that this book was due back at the library is one of the reasons I actually motivated me to read and finish the book, and it's certainly much easier reviewing something I didn't much like than something I love. 

I don't really feel that I can recommend this book, but if the sales numbers I found are correct, the author doesn't need my recommendation anyway. I'm sure she's laughing all the way to the bank, no matter what I thought of her book or not.

Judging a book by its cover: There isn't exactly a lot to make a reader interested or curious about the contents of this book. On the library copy I had, there were also various review quotes and a reminder that this won the Brage prize (the Norwegian book award) for 2019. I'm assuming the publishing company went with a "Less is more" approach and figured people might pick up the book based on word of mouth. Because there really is nothing here to make a reader interested.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

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