Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth (Translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund) - review by Patrick Graney

Patrick Graney

Visions of Johanna

Is Mother Dead


Verso 352pp £14.99

In Vigdis Hjorth’s latest novel, Johanna, a middle-aged, recently widowed artist, returns to Norway from Utah after thirty years to reconnect with her mother. Since she skipped her father’s funeral, however, her family have taken against her: ‘A conversation between Mum and me had become impossible.’ What follows is an intense self-examination by Johanna, who tries to make sense of her childhood and understand her difficult relationship with her family. All the while she commits slightly creepy acts of surveillance on her mother as she builds up the courage to face up to her in person.

The story of Johanna’s struggles involves a slightly timeworn motif: the rebellion of the artistic child against a stifling bourgeois environment. The novel hinges on the fact that, however much she might try to escape it, at the moment of her widowhood Johanna is drawn back into the

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RLF - March