By Therese Bohman (Translated by Marlaine Delargy)
Other Press (April 10, 2018)
Like Dante’s pilgrim, Karolina Andersson finds herself at midlife lost in a dark wood. A professor of art at a Swedish university, she is recently separated from a loveless marriage, bored with her work despite being good at it, and looking for a sign to guide her out of the wood.
When Anton Stromberg, the charming Ph.D. student she is mentoring, announces he has discovered letters from the early 1900s connecting an unknown female Swedish painter and a famous German painter, Karolina is intrigued and energized by the prospects of academic fame and opportunity.
But her personal life remains in disarray, preventing her from finding contentment for long. Karolina is in her forties, childless, soon to be divorced. What does she have to show for her two decades of marriage and professional life? She soon finds herself in an emotional tailspin.
“What would she be remembered for? She might end up with neither children nor a partner; what had she done to make an impression on the world? Her writing didn’t interest many people. Maybe she ought to write more, something really radical. Surely she ought to express her opinion when she had one, for example in the debate on the columns in the new subway station? If everything else was doomed to disappear into oblivion, the least she could do was to write what she really thought.”
Bohman probes Karolina’s mind like a brain surgeon and her heart like a gifted therapist. The result is an intense, almost claustrophobic character study of a woman whose life could go in any number of directions. She’s frustrated and angry with some of her male colleagues, for the usual reasons. She’s glad to be out of her marriage, but disappointed in her husband and herself for their failure. And she is very lonely. “It had taken a few months for the oppressive feeling of being a couple to turn into the oppressive feeling of loneliness.”
Eventide’s greatest strength is Bohman’s depiction of Karolina’s contradictory impulses for the stability of monogamy and the thrill of sexual and romantic adventures. We get a flashback to her affair with Anders, a commercial construction supervisor who is everything her husband Karl Johan is not. A few post-separation encounters are also revealing. What often begins as a sexual fling soon becomes for Karolina a romantic fantasy of a shared life.
She becomes obsessed with trying to decide whether she could or should have children, but throws her hands up in frustration over the complex reality.
“What was the point of the feminist struggle, she thought…as long as the biology stayed the same? It would never be possible to do anything about the most basic injustice of all: the fact that the biologically superior female body was totally dependent on the continuation of life according to a fixed plan, on every woman meeting a man with whom she could reproduce within a preordained period of time.”
None of this is presented in the manner of a melodramatic romance novel. Instead, Eventide is a dissection of a woman “on the verge of a nervous breakdown.” A revelation late in the book leads Karolina to execute a clever act of revenge that ties several plot strands together.
The only aspect of Eventide that interfered with my enjoyment was its occasional digressions, in which Bohman clutters up the story with a flood of details about art history, philosophy, and culture. Yes, it reveals the workings of Karolina’s mind, but it’s also virtually incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with the abstruse subject matter. I can’t tell if Bohman is showing off her erudition, wants to emphasize just how brilliant Karolina really is (I didn’t need persuading), or if there’s a third reason that sailed over my head (quite possible).
As a result, Eventide is intriguing and involving but also occasionally confusing and even tedious. But I always cared about Karolina (a few of the male characters) and wondered what would ultimately become of her. I think Bohman’s previous book, The Other Woman, is a more satisfying read.