The Divorce by Moa Herngren – blogtour

Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies

If you’re going to write a novel about a long marriage and its demise specifically, wouldn’t you want to hear both sides of the story? I say this with caution, speaking as a divorcee after a long marriage who now tries not to think about her ex’s story! But Moa Herngren wants the reader to get the whole story, the reader can decide if there’s any blame to apportion, or if there’s a balance between both of the unhappy couple.

Herngren’s divorcing couple are Bea and Niklas. They’ve been together for more than thirty years, and have teenaged twin daughters, they live in a nice part of Stockholm and have a comfortable life with Niklas’s new job and salary as a managing paediatric doctor, supplemented by Bea’s part-time job working for a charity. Once they had the girls it was accepted that Bea would take the home role and lesser career progression. But Bea has aspirations which are currently rooted in their new bespoke kitchen which has cost the earth, and needed a loan, and Niklas is feeling the financial pressure strongly. He’s also struggling with his new job which with its added responsibilities is stressing him out.

Herngren tells the story in three parts, first Bea, then Niklas, and finally alternating between the two.

We begin with Bea, and the night it all fell apart. She and Niklas had had an argument. They were due to travel to Gotland to spend the summer with his parents as always, and he was meant to confirm the ferry and he forgot. Now they can’t go for another week. Niklas uncharacteristically stormed out and hasn’t come back. ‘He had one job.’ She goes to bed, she texts, no reply, she sleeps only fitfully – he doesn’t return. He finally rings the next day, he’d gone to his friend Freddie’s, he’s not coming home. Eventually he’ll tell her he wants a divorce. Bea needs to be in Gotland, with Tore and Lillis, her in-laws. They’ve become surrogate parents to her, as her own are so distant, unapproachable for help.

We turn to Niklas next, and we hear his side of the day it finally fell apart. He’d had a hard day at the hospital, he’d felt ‘oddly switched off and came across much too cold and clinical’, not showing the empathy new mothers need. He forgot the ferry, but when he got home he just got grief from Bea, she never asked how his day had been. That and the kitchen… In coming weeks he’ll start a new relationship with Maria, a divorcee with a son. She gives him space, is understanding, is unconcerned about things like top of the range kitchens, and she has tattoos. It’s not long before Niklas gets one, much to Bea’s disgust – about the tattoo, and Maria.

In part three, starting some months later, Bea sits in her new kitchen.

The kitchen is perfect, but now she has to give it up. And all because Niklas has given up on her.

It’s ironic. The kitchen she’s longed for is the elephant in the room. And it’ll stay while she moves out. They’re divvying up their worldly goods now.

It’s in this third part where the povs alternate, that we discover the circumstances of how Bea and Niklas met all those years ago, the basis that went on to be the foundation of their relationship. And the fallout continues in Gotland as the novel comes to its climax. I realise now I haven’t said anything about how it affects their daughters, who although twins are like chalk and cheese – needless to say one favours their mother, the other their father.

And having read the book, did I find I came down on one side more than the other? I did and fairly early too. I won’t confirm which, but it wasn’t the side I expected. I must also say, I’m really glad I got my new kitchen early on in my own marriage! It was certainly a millstone for Bea and Niklas. At 387 pages, there is a lot of meat to this novel, much to consider. It’s well-written, and even if it proves impossible to be perfectly balanced, I really enjoyed it.

Source: Review copy – thank you! Manilla Press, hardback, 387 pages.

BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

7 thoughts on “The Divorce by Moa Herngren – blogtour

  1. A Life in Books says:

    I think your enjoyment of this one was more wholehearted than mine. I wanted to be left without taking sides which, like you, I did very early on. I wonder if we both plumped for the same one!

  2. litlove says:

    I read Susan’s review of this and it’s fascinating to read your take too. I’m curious now about which side I’d favour, though it seems like it’s reasonably obvious! I had an idea for a non fiction book about divorce that would take a number of couples and just place their two accounts of the same marriage side by side, no judgement, no analysis. Still like the idea but its hard to find couples who’d do it! Also glad that Mr Litlove was totally up for a new kitchen, lol, though I can imagine how fitting one could end a relationship 😂!!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Sorry – I think I let my review show, without actually saying, which side I came down on! Re your book idea, I think if you found couples willing to discuss it, they’d be those whose divorces were amicable and not so interesting.

  3. thecontentreader says:

    Sounds like a really interesting story. I am not familiar with her, although she is Swedish. This one is not yet available on my audio app, but others are. Should maybe try those as well.

Leave a Reply