Unquiet by Linn Ullmann
I must admit that I was initially drawn to this book thanks to a number of glowing endorsements from writers I admire – Rachel Cusk, Ali Smith, Deborah Levy among them – and a striking photograph on its jacket by Wolfgang Tillmans, before remembering that I read and loved one of Ullmann’s earlier novels, A Blessed Child, many years ago. And I’m so glad I stepped into the world of this intriguing and emotionally rich novel in which the youngest of a famous filmmaker’s nine children, born to five different women, connects with her father in the final stages of his life on the remote island location of Fårö in Sweden – the place where she spent one month a year during an unusual childhood. That this scenario is part of the author’s life story makes this work of autofiction even more compelling.
In a fragmentary style that I found almost impossible to stop reading, including at times the transcripts of recorded conversations between the father and daughter, Ullmann reveals a number of truths about the relationships between parents and children, as they change across time, always tussling between closeness and distance, attachment and detachment, and between personal desires and aspirations and the responsibilities of care. In its reflective moments, the narrator realises she is making something of a long goodbye to her beloved father, as this talented and erudite man, who lived life with intention and exactitude, begins to lose his grip on language and memory.
This is also a story of two creative people who come together to complete a project together before it is too late, and is at times so poignant that it is impossible not to be affected by it. This elegantly written book, translated from the Norwegian by Thilo Reinhard, is a unique reading experience, and appears just at the right time to round out a reading year unlike any other.