When a dispute over her parents’ will grows bitter, Bergljot is drawn back into the orbit of the family she fled twenty years before. Her mother and father have decided to leave two island summer houses to her sisters, disinheriting the two eldest siblings. Bergljot, who has borne a horrible secret since childhood, understands the gesture as a final attempt to suppress the truth and a cruel insult to the grievously injured.
Hjorth’s precision becomes a quietly devastating mimicry of the effects of trauma, and of ambiguous and conflicting memories, on a human being ... The particulars of Bergljot’s experiences are revealed with immaculate restraint, earning Hjorth comparisons with Ibsen, but as she goes further into the past, that restraint transcends its beauty and becomes profoundly sad, the relationship of style to the pain it is describing growing more disturbing. The tension and reserve begin to seem not just a formal choice but a necessary way of being that has been bred in the narrator by the physiological imprint of trauma ... The insistent clarity, and the avoidance of gratuitous emotion – something like a gorgeously written police report at times – show the indiscriminate self-awareness one witnesses in traumatised adults ... Part of what makes this such an extraordinary book is Bergljot’s awareness of the competing pain that surrounds her, including that of the people who caused her own pain.
Approached as a standalone work of invention...Will and Testament is a powerfully humane novel about inheritance, trauma and the inheritance of trauma ... Financial settlement is an ugly proxy for emotional settlement, and Will and Testament is a fittingly ugly book, mired in the petty mundanity of internecine squabbling: furious late-night emails, Facebook unfriending and virtuoso passive-aggression. It seems only fitting that this novel’s grand moment of reckoning takes place in the drab office of the family accountant ... Charlotte Barslund’s translation captures this soul-deep fatigue with barren prose, bared to the necessary ... this is a novel of the subconscious – of dreams, symbols and obdurate, childish longings ... There is undeniable cruelty in Hjorth’s life-drawn depictions ... But there is also a shimmering vein of compassion running through Will and Testament, and an irrepressible sense of hope. Hatred cauterizes hope, but love leaves it festering. This isn’t (or isn’t only), as the book’s blurb suggestively describes it, a 'down-and-dirty revenge': it’s a tragic, terrible love story.
... prickly, persuasive ... Like Knausgaard, Hjorth is writing against repression, against the taboo on telling things as they really are. But he urges us to look at dead bodies; she forces ... Like Knausgaard, Hjorth is writing against repression, against the taboo on telling things as they really are. But he urges us to look at dead bodies; she forces us to regard bleeding souls. ... a gut-wrenching novel, but it is also a gossipy one, which begs to be read in an old-fashioned, judgmental manner. Right and wrong, good and bad, are applicable modes of assessment here. The reader, furnished with primary documents, has the opportunity to take a side. In fact, to be a moral person in the zero-sum world of this novel, she must ... Bergljot is settling scores with herself as much as with anybody else. She is striving, in the Kierkegaardian tradition, to create a majority of one. It’s a solitary quest of detours and traps, including the fear that, as both narrator and character, she has somehow got the story all wrong. An inveterate phone-talker, Bergljot tells her tale as one would in conversations with a friend, doubling back on earlier versions as though to retrieve some crucial detail that might prove her claim once and for all, vacillating among indignation and dark humor and self-doubt. These stops and starts illustrate the painful circularity of Bergljot’s problem: people don’t believe her because she’s a basket case, but she’s a basket case because people don’t believe her ... There is a certain audacity in saying, 'I heard the email notification from my iPhone on the seat next to me, an act of war, was my guess,' and asking people to take you seriously.