Publication Date: Feb 02, 2016
List Price US $12.99
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“Gripped me like an airport read . . . perfect.”—Lena Dunham
Winner of the August Prize, Sweden’s most prestigious literary award: a novel about a perfectly reasonable woman’s descent into the delusions of unrequited love
Ester Nilsson is a sensible person in a sensible relationship. Until the day she is asked to give a lecture on famous artist Hugo Rask. The man himself is in the audience, intrigued and clearly delighted by her fascination with him. When the two meet afterward, she is spellbound.
Ester’s life is then intrinsically linked to this meeting and the chain of events that unfolds. She leaves her boyfriend and throws herself into an imaginary relationship with Hugo. She falls deeply in love, and he consumes her thoughts. Indeed, in her own mind she’s sure that she and Hugo are a couple.
Slowly and painfully Ester comes to realize that her perception of the relationship is different from his. She’s a woman who prides herself on having a rational and analytical mind, but in the face of her overpowering feelings for Hugo, she is too clever and too honest for her own good. Bitingly funny and darkly fascinating, Willful Disregard is a story about total and desperate devotion, and how willingly we betray ourselves in the pursuit of love.
Excerpt from Willful Disregard
At that moment she was incapable of perceiving that it would be normal behavior to take off a thick down jacket even if only staying for a short time. Mimicking normality is the hardest thing of all. It has a lack of concern that is impossible to imitate. Exaggerations show up and look like stupidity. But attempts to hide feelings do have the advantage that the observer does not know for sure. Taken to extremes, life is orientation after shame or glory, and when anxiety sweeps in there is a relief at not having left any definite tracks. Having kept a jacket on, having seemed awkward or nervous, these are not proof in the way utterances are proof. At most they are circumstantial evidence.
Ester Nilsson, who generally dismissed shame and glory because both of them made the individual a slave to the judgments of others, now sat there wondering how much or how little she should take her jacket off to ensure nobody noticed how much she was in love.
They talked about Hugo, his works, his stature and achievements. He asked her a little about herself but she swiftly brought the conversation back to him, referring to a sequence of images he had done of people at a bus stop in the rain, which had recurred over the years.
Why that theme, and why recurring?
Hugo got up, stretched his arms in the air, took a few steps, and tore down a note that was stuck to the wall. She saw his body from behind and wanted to rush over and hold it.
“Lean and compulsively readable…Andersson’s sketching of the lovesick Ester and the preoccupied Hugo is so well done that every incensed text she sends him is another little piece of our collective heart as we follow a struggle that has existed for as long as human life: the lover and the loved.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Few novels about misconstrued emotion are as clear-eyed as Swedish journalist/novelist Andersson’s 2013August Prize winner…A telling portrait of how we can misunderstand others—and ourselves.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Acutely observed.” —Booklist
“A compelling read, a deeply philosophical book that attempts to make sense of love in the modern world.” —Irish Examiner
“This is a slim volume, but every word packs a punch; every other sentence is so wise and funny that it begs to be quoted. Andersson’s gift for conjuring atmosphere and emotion out of small quotidian mishaps is extraordinary.” —The Guardian
“Dry wit and sharp insight . . . If [Andersson] sees an intellectual pretension, she pricks it.” —The Economist
“Speaking of intelligence. I’ll be damned if it isn’t Lena Andersson’s middle name. She is known as the public’s sharpest analysts in politics and cultural phenomena, but her new novel Arbitrary Conduct is about love – a subject so conventional that in this context it appears to be ingenious .. . Her novel is a creepy lucid dissection of the tangled psychology of love.” —M Magazine
“Alas, most women have lived this story. Though few will have told it so well. Compelling and keenly observant.” —Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin
“Lena Andersson’s Willful Disregard is a story of the heart written with bracing intellectual rigor. It is a stunner, pure and simple.” —Alice Sebold, bestselling author of The Lovely Bones and Lucky
“Andersson writes smart, sharp-eyed, and often witheringly funny prose; nobody gets out of this situation with their pride, or their public persona, intact. Which is what makes it such addictive reading.” —Belinda McKeon, author of Solace and Tender
- Did either Ester or Hugo remind you of a relationship you or any of your friends have been in? What about Willful Disregard is familiar or rings true to you?
- How does Ester’s relationship with Hugo begin? Would you describe her feelings for him as love or infatuation? Why? Describe the process through which Ester falls for Hugo.
- While reading the novel, did you ever feel like the “girlfriend chorus” (p 49)? If you were Ester’s friend, what advice would you give her?
- On page 27 Ester explains to Hugo what a “consequentialist” and what a “rights-based ethicist” is. Later, she asks Dragan “how he could live with the consequences” of his support for the “mullahs in Iran in 1979” (p 74). Is Ester a consequentialist or a rights-based ethicist? How do these leanings manifest themselves in her relationship with Hugo?
- On page 2 the narrator says that the following story is about “The dreadful gulf between thought and words, will and expression, reality and unreality.” How does the relationship between Hugo and Ester reflect this?
- On page 50 Ester thinks, “She must not be the obedient dog that she felt like. A behavioristically autonomous dog, albeit phenomenological.” Do you think the narrator is poking fun at Ester? Do you think Ester ever finds her situation humorous or ironic?
- Ester leaves a note for Hugo “with one of the commonest declarations of love that language has to offer” (p 83). What role does language play in the relationship between Ester and Hugo? How does Ester use language in her everyday life?
- How does Ester change over the course of the novel?
- The narrator explains that “In her heart of hearts [Ester] was not all that impressed by [Hugo’s] ideas” (p 33). Why do you think Ester still insists on seeing Hugo, and that she’s in love with him, despite her criticisms of him? How does Ester describe her love for Hugo? Do you think Andersson accurately captures the love Ester feels for Hugo?
- On page 134 Ester thinks, “Don’t do this…Don’t drag me into this again. I’m just starting to break free.” Do you think Hugo in any way encourages Ester’s behavior? How would you describe Hugo’s role in the relationship?
- By the end of the novel has Ester reached a point where she can put an end to her interest in Hugo? Why do you think she was unable to do so throughout the year and a half over which the novel takes place?