Pereine Press have carved out a niche for themselves by releasing slightly obscure European novellas that are largely unknown in English. They are all very different but they have one thing in common - despite their short length (often well under 200 pages), they manage to provide a great deal of food for thought, some intensely poignant moments and unforgettable characters that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page. Hanne Orstavik's The Blue Room (Pereine 14, Coming-Of-Age series) ticks all of those boxes.
It's a book that is short on action but big on psychological drama. We are introduced to Johanne, a slightly eccentric 20-something student who shares a small attic flat with her equally eccentric mother. Both are devout Christians, both seem to think that all men are there to murder or rape them, both of them seem to have a strange "je t'aime moi non plus" (I love you, me neither) relationship with each other.
The book opens with Johanne discovering that she is locked in her bedroom. Is the door stuck? Or did her mother lock it, absent-mindedly before going to work or as a conscious decision? As Johanne's inner monologue unfurls, we get a glimpse into her life and her rather warped relationship with her mother. She studies psychology at university but she would be a very good case study herself. She has very little experience with men but her mind frequently brings up fleeting but shockingly violent sexual images. Her inner narrative, jumping from past to present and reality to fantasy, is often hard to interpret but we discover that she has recently embarked on a love affair with Ivar, a man who works in the university canteen, and that she is supposed to be heading off to meet him at the airport today for a six week trip to America. Aha, so that explains the locked door. But what is her mother's motive? Is she looking out for her naive daughter, is she being over-protective or does she have more selfish motives, not wanting to be left behind all by herself?
As with many of Pereine's books, I found the ending slightly unsatisfying because there are lots of unanswered questions left hanging, but that is the whole point - it makes you think and leaves you to come up with your own interpretation. It's an interesting look at mother-daughter relationships and the exciting but scary process of leaving childhood behind to become a young woman.
star rating : 3.5/5
RRP : £12
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.