The Looking-Glass Sisters by Gøhril Gabrielsen tr. John Irons #WITMonth

This is a tragedy about a woman who yearns for love but ends up in a painfully destructive conflict with her sister. It is also a story about loneliness – both geographical and psychological. Facing the prospect of a life without love, we fall back into isolating delusions at exactly the moment when we need to connect.

Mieke Ziervogel, Peirene Press

Looking Glass SistersTwo sisters have lived in the same house all their lives, their parents long gone and they can barely tolerate each other. They are bound together in one sense due to the practical disability of the younger sister, but also through the inherent sense of duty and responsibility of the first-born.

At times like these, in the dark, maybe with a candle lit, a sudden, intense feeling overcomes me that Ragna and I are one body, completely inseparable. We have gradually let go of parts of ourselves in favour of the other. Over the years, through conflicts and confrontations, we have shaped, kneaded and formed ourselves into a lopsided, distorted yet complete organism. Ragna has the body and I have the soul. She puts on the firewood, I do the thinking. She makes the tea, I read and write.

They manage with their hostile acceptance of each other until the new neighbour Johan begins to visit and competes for the attention of the able, caring, repressed Ragna, a potential disruptive threat to her invalid sister and to the way things in their household have been for a long time.

Days and weeks go by, I glide into a soothing rhythm of calm everydayness. It is an illusion, I know that, for beneath the dependable surface conspiracies smoulder, along with my sister’s hot-tempered desire for her own life.

Narrated from the perspective of the crippled sister in a stream of consciousness style, its intense, frustrating and laced with a sense of foreboding as the third character, Johan, arrives and either in her imagination or in reality – we are never quite sure – convinces the sister to make plans to change their circumstances.

Can it be that I, the sick one, have given rise to impatience in Ragna because of my exaggerated gestures and unreasonable demands? Can it be that I, the helpless one, have bred the anger in her by making myself more pathetic than I am? And can it be that I, in my struggle to gain the inviolable position of victim, have forged and fashioned Ragna the violator?

Claustrophobic, at times surreal, it fits perfectly with the Peirene Press Close Encounters theme, which comprised the three novellas below.

Chance Encounter Series

Peirene Press publish three books a year in a themed series. Their 6th series ‘Chance Encounters’ comprised three books that explored different aspects of interpersonal relationships and the importance of the Other in our development as individuals and our understanding of ourselves.

20 thoughts on “The Looking-Glass Sisters by Gøhril Gabrielsen tr. John Irons #WITMonth

    • White Hunger is the perfect winter read, this one I chose to read after Magda Szabo’s The Door as they sounded a little similar in premise and in the respect that they portray an intense female relationship they are, however Emerence in The Door is strongly connected to her community and these sisters are very isolated from their community, but there is something interesting about the two novels and what they depict.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This was my favourite of the three Peirene books from last year. I thought its exploration of an ugly relationship was unflinching and unsentimental, but that the sisters were not being dehumanised.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your insightful comment, yes, it was a relationship laid bare and not pretty in its presentation. It did had a mildly sinister undertone, perhaps by placing that present scene up front, leaving he reader wondering what had happened to have the sister banished to the attic.

      It also show indirectly perhaps, the negative and deteriorating effect of the lack of family and community, there is no obligation to show kindness, patience or goodwill, there is no respite from their situation and when it does come, it is both one-sided and selfish (on the part of Johan). What a different story it might have been, had A Kind Man come to the door. It is thought-provoking indeed, as a good novel ought to be!


  2. I will have to get it soon. I have been eyeing it for quite a while now..
    Actually, that’s true for all the Peirenes. Can’t help but think how thrilling it is to have a publisher one can completely trust and lean on!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: August is Women in Translation #WITMonth – Word by Word

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