Darting between rapidly escalating psychodrama and cultural critique, addressing the reader directly, presenting some passages in the form of visual diagrams: Hval knows that she risks incomprehensibility. That’s precisely her book’s gambit – and its fearless credo. At one point the narrator recalls her writing professor in the US objecting that the short story she’s submitted is too “angry and messy, incoherent”. She was left feeling tethered and tamed. What she wants, she says later, is an “escape route from structure and rhetoric”. “I don’t just write to analyse,” she declares, “Analysis can so easily become judgmental, categorical and clean-cut.”
But a novel like this, like another mind, can be read at multiple depths. It helps to recognise, in one terse “episode” about a group suicide, that the narrator is describing a scene from the 2001 film Suicide Club. Since the latter is a cult satire on Japanese pop-cultural fads, the episode acts like a playful question: “Is making erudite references merely a way of seeming deep?” Hval’s novel is prepared to mock itself – well, why not?
On the other hand, you might just read the heartfelt story of how a girl came to think, and make art, for herself. This girl, in the end, is Jenny Hval – but of course she’s someone else.
Through a non-linear, diaristic stream of consciousness, intermingled with long essays, poetic fragments and scenes from the film, Hval explores the philosophy behind witchcraft as a form of feminism. At the book’s centre is an obsession with hatred and its radical, untapped potential: “I remember how much hope there is in hatred.” Chapters of polemical prose, all in an impressive translation by Marjam Idriss, discuss questions such as “Could we turn back time and blast fictional Japanese cities instead of real ones?”