Premise established, we are safely buckled in for the ride, which rumbles along a scenic track for roughly five minutes before a crazed carnival operator assumes the controls and we take off at warp speed through loops, inversions and spins. The third-person narration turns into a monologue from a secondary character, which morphs into a memoir in the form of letters from a third character. When an author tries and fails to pull off this level of formal sorcery, it feels like being pantsed on the playground. (Startling. Unfair.) When an author succeeds, as Wolff does, it replicates the optimal sensation of intoxication: Suddenly anything can happen! And you want it that way! ... It’s impossible to read Carnality without fantasizing about the twists your own life might take if you adopted her methodology ... I don’t read Swedish, so I’m unsure how to apportion credit for beautiful sentences, but they abound ... Withholding these clues — denying the modern reader’s lazy appetite for shorthand — is a moral intervention: Wolff wants us to know these people through their actions, not their diplomas or haircuts. It’s also a clever way of forcing us to have an imagination.
Together, the trio’s words have a lulling affect, complementing the gradual reveal of people’s true natures ... The book includes queasy descriptions of altercations between Mercuro and his past lovers. Such details are appalling and intimate, demanding introspection on the role of blame within mercurial relationships. And as people’s past and present wanton deeds come to the fore, human obsessions with body and pride complicate the book’s questions around sex and abuse ... In the psychological thriller Carnality, a writer confronts terrifying questions about gender and violence.
Sharply translated by Frank Perry, Carnality is the crystallization of Wolff’s years of narrating carnality and its effects. This novel answers the central question posed in her previous works: What is the solution to the problems of the flesh? ... Whatever the case may be, Wolff’s understanding of carnality is multilayered, all-consuming, and deeply entrenched ... Where Carnality excels is in such penetrating analyses of how these wounds influence group psychology, with her portrayals of online trolling—through the perspectives of both Mercuro and Lucia—standing out as exceptionally perceptive.