WITMonth 2021: Magma by Thora Hjörleifsdóttir Review Magma: 9780802157393: Hjörleifsdóttir, Thora, Matich, Meg: Bookstranslated from the Icelandic by Meg Matich

Goodreads blurb: Twenty-year-old Lilja is in love. As a young university student, she is quickly smitten with the intelligent, beautiful young man from school who quotes Derrida and reads Latin and cooks balanced vegetarian meals. Before she even realizes, she’s moved in with him, living in his cramped apartment, surrounded by sour towels and flat Diet Cokes. As the newfound intimacy of sharing a shower and a bed fuels her desire to please her partner, his quiet and pervasive manipulations start to unravel her.
In an era of pornification, his acts of nearly imperceptible abuse continue to mount as their relationship develops. Lilja wants to hold onto him, take care of him and be the perfect lover. But in order to do so, she gradually lets go of her boundaries and concurrently starts to lose her sense of self.
With astounding clarity and restraint, Hjörleifsdóttir sheds light on the commonplace undercurrents of violence that so often go undetected in romantic relationships. She deftly illustrates the failings of our culture in recognizing symptoms of cruelty, and in powerful, poetic prose depicts the unspooling of a tender-hearted woman desperate to love well.


I basically find out about all my favorite books from Willow, over at Books and Bao, and this was certainly the case with Magma. Translated from the Icelandic, this short, tense novella became an instant favorite for me. I know opinions on short works of fiction are split, but I think novellas and short novels in general are so hard to pull off, but when it’s done well, I think it becomes miles above any sort of longer work. This novella is highly accomplished and effective in portraying an abusive relationship – the fact that it’s so short only manages to amplify the feelings of insularity and isolation that abusive relationships often entail.

CJ, from the youtube channel CJ Reads, has a moniker for the type of book this is that I love – this is a really great DWM novel (a depressed woman moving) but it’s also more than just an exploration of a broken woman living and moving through the world. What this novella nails for me is how insidious the abuse is, and at the same time, the psychological turmoil of Lilja. The self-blame and hatred are so incisively described, and the author never holds back.  While I think that character work is hard to do in such a short time, I think the author does a fantastic job at making a really complex and layered character, which really left an impact on me. This type of hurried, tense prose is also something that always works for me personally as a reader, but it’s also a fantastic fit to tell this story, in many ways. It’s quite bare and matter-of-fact, and it has this sort of urgent tone to it.


Once again, the vibes do not lie, and this was a really fantastic read that I could not recommend more.


I would love to hear from you – any thoughts you’d like to share? Let me know!

In the meantime, happy reading




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