cover image What Kingdom

What Kingdom

Fine Gråbøl, trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken. Archipelago, $18 trade paper (146p) ISBN 978-1-953861-84-9

Poet Gråbøl makes her English-language debut with this striking chronicle of a young woman’s treatment for severe depression. The unnamed narrator arrived in a Copenhagen psychiatric care center some years ago following a course of electroconvulsive therapy, and lives on a floor designated for temporary residents. They’re permitted to come and go as they please, and they cope with their conditions by cooking together, taking up boxing, watching movies, and forming a cover band. The novel is composed of short, journal-like entries that range from slice-of-life vignettes about other residents, like the angry Waheed, who regularly blasts 50 Cent in his room, to elliptical impressions of the narrator’s mental state (“I sometimes wake up and realize that what’s going to happen has no name”). Most evocative are Gråbøl’s descriptions of ECT, which the narrator reflects on with ambivalence (“There was something both disturbing and fantastic about being wiped clean like that”). The narrator is also unsure about her future as she deals with the difficult reality of the present, a state of mind she expresses poignantly (“Those of us with no place to live and no place to die end up in this trial home, this impermanent halfway house”). Readers of Janet Frame ought to take note. (Apr.)