cover image Lean Your Loneliness Against Mine

Lean Your Loneliness Against Mine

Klara Hveberg, trans. from the Norwegian by Alison McCullough. HarperVia, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-303832-5

Hveberg’s rich, philosophical debut runs on ruminations about love, loss, and loneliness with two love stories, each involving a math professor and a brilliant student. In contemporary Oslo, there’s 19-year-old Rakel Havberg and her married, 50-something mentor, Jakob Krogstad. The other couple is Sofia Kovalevskaya, a trailblazing female professor who earns her doctorate in 1874, and her adviser, Karl Weiserstrass. All four are obsessed with numbers and formulas, and their passions are stirred by music and literature. Rakel is moved by Christoph Gluck’s melancholy Orpheus and Eurydice and the “joy and sorrow” in Cesar Franck’s violin sonata, and Jakob introduces Rakel to the agony of literary figures via Thomas Hardy’s romantic poetry and stories of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s rejected marriage proposal. Rakel’s academic achievements are subsumed by a lifelong incapacitating illness, and she also dreams of writing a novel that “carries something of the eternal beauty of music and mathematics within it.” 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. (Nov.)