cover image Is Mother Dead

Is Mother Dead

Vigdis Hjorth, trans. from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund. Verso, $26.95 (

Hjorth (Long Live the Post Horn!) delivers a gripping tale of obsession about an artist and her frayed relationship with her family. Johanna, nearing 60, hasn’t spoken to her estranged mother or sister since her father’s death many years ago. Now, recently widowed, she returns to Oslo after decades spent living in the U.S. Her adult son lives in Copenhagen, and a retrospective of her work is soon to launch in Norway. While working on new pieces for the show, Johanna decides to call her mother, who doesn’t answer. Johanna then begins to construct a fantasy of her mother’s daily life while simultaneously ratcheting up her attempts at interaction. She hides outside her mother’s building, follows her from a distance, and sifts through her trash. Johanna calls and texts, yet she continues to receive no response, and her fixation on breaking through swells along with memories of a rocky childhood and her mother’s own unhappiness. Hjorth keenly walks the line between Johanna’s concern and mania; as Johanna’s hang-ups occasionally spin out of control, they remain true to the character. This accomplished novel is hard to shake. (Oct.)