Let’s Hope for the Best, by Carolina Setterwall, 2019

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Title: Let’s Hope for the Best

Author: Carolina Setterwall

Translated by: Elizabeth Clark Wessel

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Autobiography

Format: Paperback

Language: Original Swedish, translated to English

No. of pages: 400

Synopsis:

One day while nursing her young son, Carolina receives a strange email from her boyfriend Aksel, detailing computer passwords and other instructions in event of his death. She grows worried at first, then irritated – this is so typical of her unsentimental partner. Aksel ends the message: Let’s hope for the best! Five months later, he is dead. 
In her debut novel, Let’s Hope for the Best, Carolina Setterwall recounts the intensity of falling in love with her partner Aksel, and the shock of finding him dead in bed one morning. Carolina and Aksel meet at a party, and their passionate first encounter leads to months of courtship during which Carolina struggles to find her place. While Aksel prefers to take things slow, Carolina is eager to advance their relationship -moving in together, getting a cat, and finally having a child.

Perhaps to impose some order on the chaos, Carolina devotedly chronicles the months after Aksel’s passing like a ship’s log. She unpacks with forensic intensity the small details of life before tragedy, eager to find some explanation for the bad hand she’s been dealt. When new romance rushes in, Carolina finds herself assuming the reticent role Aksel once played. She’s been given the gift of love again. But can she make it work?

A striking feat of auto-fiction, written in direct address to Setterwall’s late partner, LET’S HOPE FOR THE BEST is a stylistic tour-de force..

My review:

I received an unsolicited ARC from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

When I was done reading this book I was so conflicted because how do I dare to review a book with a strong autobiographical theme? How do I dare to judge such a raw telling of the events that can break anyone? How do I judge a story, one which is so real and while it touched me so deeply, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for the people affected by this death?

But I told myself, I have read and studied various critical works like New Criticism, The Intentional Fallacy, Death of an Author, What is an Author etc. And as such I decided to write my review in middle ground.

At first glance, reading the synopsis made me realize that it was not going to be an easy read. And it was true. I took almost a week to read this one because I just could not bear to read it at one go, the way I do with most other books (also the fact that I was travelling played a major factor in this). I could only read this book in spurts because the emotions were too much to deal with. i was experiencing these second hand, mind you, but the writer was writing about real events. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been. The various rounds of edits etc that are to be done after writing the manuscript is another ordeal that I wondered how the author felt about. This book made me realize how very lucky I am today – I know it sounds so bad to someone who has lost a dear one – but it made me appreciate my family more, despite all the quarrels we have. I had to stop reading, go, and hug my mom and dad and my brother too.

This is truly a tour de force. In most translated works, the essence is lost but it si not so. The translator Elizabeth Clark Wessel has done an amazing job. The writing is in present continuous and I like it in autobiographies, I admit. The writing is poignant and raw – you feel so many emotions that sometimes you just have to sit back and let it all sink in. I cried and laughed along with the author. One thing that I liked best was that it is so real – you will love Carolina and hate her at times, even – while you realize that we all do the same things sometimes. We are humans and we are loving, kind and warm. But we are also cruel, selfish and angry at times, lashing out at the ones we love.

Aksel’s death and the aftermath make us question so many thing we do, so many people and things we take for granted. The way Carolina starts to resemble Aksel in her relationship is so parallel and well juxtaposed. The writing has not been sugarcoated and so you see the real aspects of life after the loss of a loved one. I loved the book – it was such a tumultuous ride.

Verdict:

I rate this a solid 5/5 stars. Will probably come back to it again.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

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