In this interiorized Norwegian novel, Rakel is a shy, gifted woman with a rare talent for math. After she meets Jakob, an older teacher who becomes fascinated by Rakel's quick mind, her health declines. Bedridden, Rakel obsesses over what may be her life's only love story, looking for patterns and answers in numbers, music and literature.
As you might guess from its title (borrowed aslant from a Stein Mehren poem), Hveberg’s novel is filled with a self-serious sentimentality. Rakel’s intellectual prowess and twee sensibilities are carefully demonstrated and amplified throughout the book’s many sections ... Hveberg, a former research mathematician at the University of Oslo, structures her novel in the model of a Sierpinski gasket — in fractal geometry, a triangular figure that 'contains smaller copies of itself on many different levels and is full of holes of various sizes.' It’s a structure used to greater effect in Infinite Jest, better suited to that book’s maximalist style and convoluted plotlines. In contrast, Hveberg’s material proves too thin and insular for such a recursive format, making the end result appear repetitive despite McCullough’s nimble translation.
... a stunning debut novel about unrequited love, longing, obsession, betrayal, and more. Complex and alluring ... Aided by ruminations about numbers, music, and literature [the protagonist] comes to accept her fate in ways and words that make us want to embrace her as if she were a child who understands the world far beyond her years ... She breaks [readers' hearts] by carrying on alone, exploring life’s meaning in solitude and with a resignation as beautiful as a sonata or a great work of literature.
Hveberg’s rich, philosophical debut runs on ruminations about love, loss, and loneliness ... Rakel’s aspirations are not unlike Hveberg’s cerebral narrative, which treats knotty subjects—the Mandelbrot set, the Sierpinski gadget, the snake lemma, and the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator—in a playful way, often using clever puns ('mi-Rakel'), puzzles and anagrams. Hveberg gives proof to a provocative equation for elegant fiction.