Do you like challenging, experimental fiction? Do you like less focus on plot and more on meditations, philosophy, and transformation? Pull up a chair, because Because Venus Crossed An Alpine Violet On The Day That I Was Born by Mona Høvring and translated by Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin is for you. If not, if you prefer more plot-driven novels and less time in exploring thoughts and self, you absolutely will not enjoy this novel. However, as a solid lover of challenging and experimental fiction, Because Venus was exactly for me, and it’s been a while since I enjoyed such a tightly written, magical, and thought-provoking novel. It won the 2018 Norwegian Critics’ Prize for Literature, and so it’s a delight to read it in translation – while I can’t directly compare the original Norwegian text with the English, I can say that Ella, the narrator, has a strong and unique voice, and the language use is honestly delightful. Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin did a wonderful job in translation.
Ella and her sister Martha head to a small Norwegian village in the mountains, to stay in a hotel and let Martha rest after a mental breakdown. While Ella embraces the holiday and carefully observes their temporary surroundings with a sense of wonder and peace, Martha shows little interest in the hotel, the other guests, the hotel workers, or her sister. Ella befriends Ruth, a member of the staff of the hotel, and Dani, Ruth’s lover. Before Ella is able to realize her own attraction to Dani, Martha calls her out on it during breakfast, and after a confused argument, vanishes from the hotel. Given the gift of time and space while waiting for Martha to come back, Ella explores who she is without the responsibility of her sister, learning about her sense of self and her preferences, as well as leaving her room to explore a relationship with Dani.
This is a relatively short novel, clocking in at 142 pages. Høvring, and Dickson and Rankin, did not waste a word, bringing us deep inside Ella’s mind as she goes on this trip to the country. Ella’s thoughts and observations about the hotel and the village are funny and endearing, and we get to watch Ella gain confidence, rethink the path her life has taken so far, and take a few chances. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is not a book for those who like a plot-driven read, but for those who enjoy a thoughtful study of a character, Because Venus will not disappoint. An excellent novel in translation.
Mona Høvring is the author of six poetry collections and four novels. Her previous novels include the acclaimed Something That Helps (2004), The Waiting Room in the Atlantic (2012), winner of the Unified Language Prize, and Camilla’s Long Nights (2013), nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize. Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born won the 2021 Dobloug Prize, the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, was a finalist for the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize, and was included on numerous critics’ Best of 2018 book lists.
An excerpt from "Writing With My Eyes: Staying Alive While Dying" by Angela Parker-Brown.