Johanna is recently widowed and back in Oslo after a long absence as she prepares for a retrospective of her art.The subject of her work is motherhood and some of her more controversial paintings have brought about a dramatic rift between parent and child. This new proximity, after decades of acrimonious absence, set both women on edge, and before too long Johanna finds her mother stalking her thoughts, and Johanna starts stalking her mother's house.
Harrowing and propulsive ... Hjorth deftly conveys the psychological warfare of familial conflict in circuitous, searching sentences. Fragments replicate the stab of betrayal, run-ons rummage for truth amid lies ... Precise and affecting.
At first, Johanna seems like an ordinary woman with reasonable questions about the family who tried to mold her in their image, and who then rejected her for rejecting them. Over time, her preoccupation with her estranged family grows, driving her to extreme, invasive measures. Her obsession propels the story toward its tense conclusion ... Is Mother Dead is a Norwegian domestic thriller about the lengths to which people will go to dig up truths that others want to stay buried.
Writing with a rush of anxious interiority beautifully reproduced by Barslund’s translation, Hjorth spins out Joanna’s hopes, fears, and half-suppressed memories in obsessive and propulsive run-on sentences, full of self-reflexive questions and crushing doubt ... If we read the basement as suppressed memories, buried by pain and time, and the top floor as the land of fervent, authentic living, Joanna performs this double movement throughout the novel, the descent a prerequisite to the ascent. Is Mother Dead both pulls readers into Joanna’s adventure and calls on them to become more alive to their own task, their arms stretching upward for the next wrung.