cover image My Work

My Work

Olga Ravn, trans. from the Danish by Sophia Hersi Smith and Jennifer Russell. New Directions, $18.95 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3471-9

Ravn (The Employees) combines autofiction, criticism, and poetry for a remarkable experimental narrative that probes the dark side of pregnancy, childhood, and new motherhood. In vignettes that serve as a framing device, a fictional Ravn recounts finding a pregnancy journal four years after her first child was born, along with other pages written postpartum that she doesn’t remember having produced (“If it weren’t for my handwriting, I might have assumed it was all written by a stranger”). Credit for these writings is assigned to Anna, an authorial double named after the protagonist of Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook.” Anna devotes many passages to her anxiety, and she copes by reminding herself she has a way out with suicide. A new riff emerges on the classic doppelgänger trope of doubles in mortal combat, as Ravn imagines Anna stabbing her to death. It’s an unsettling and visionary fictional enactment of Ravn’s thinking, which is on glimmering display in chapters devoted to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where Ravn considers how a woman writer’s creative output can be both dangerous and essential to her survival. This brilliant and unflinching work deserves to be a classic. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misidentified the inspiration for the character Anna’s name.