A Change of Time (2019, tr. Martin Aitken. Original: En ny tid, 2015) is the record of a woman’s passage through grief.
Told through diary entries written by a woman who is, for much of the story, referred to by her married name (Fru Bragge), the novel opens in 1927, when our narrator’s husband is in the hospital. His name is Vigand Bagge, he is the local physician in the small town of Thyregod, and he knows he is going to die. He keeps his illness to himself and, unbeknownst to his wife, drives to the hospital wearing the suit with which he is going to be buried. He never tells anything to our narrator, and he never says goodbye.
We have a sense that there is something amiss with their marriage and, as the narrative progresses, we learn how and why. “Can one ask a person to show that they love you? Reason, that most faithful onlooker to the tribulations of others, says no. But what say unreason?”
Two decades earlier, in 1904, our narrator, then in her mid-twenties, had come to Thyregod to work as a schoolteacher. She is the first woman in the town to ride a bicycle (and later will be the first widow to apply for a driving license). Vigand is twenty years older, they barely know each other, but they get married – for reasons we will come to learn.
Now, Fru Bragge is 47, her husband is about to die, and, after 22 years of companionless marriage, she will be alone: our narrator will have to learn how to rely on herself again. “What will I do when he is no longer here? Who will then remind me of what I am to think? Who will keep me in place? I shall have to find my own place.”
Her diary entries begin as a record of an ongoing conversation with Vigand, and grow to be a conversation she holds with herself. Through her diary, our narrator will come to find a voice and a place – her own place, a room of her own.
In the process, her past will slowly unravel, and the complex portrait of grief you paint here is the highlight of the novel for me. A death in the family inevitably demands some form of reckoning. Rather than presenting a simple picture of a woman ‘reclaiming her own identity’, your novel takes a step back and records the process of painting that picture itself: it is the record of a woman wrestling with conflicted feelings and unlearning herself; a woman both missing her husband and feeling bitter and angry at him; a woman feeling lost, but also free. “I am filled by a mad desire—not to cease to exist, but to be alone. To have no one come. No one look in on me. No kindness, no outstretched hands.”
This is no straight path, and the narrative meanders back and forth between past and present, and continues into the future. We feel as though Fru Bragge were sifting through her memories to find the young schoolteacher who arrived in Thyregod more than 20 years earlier. The grief for the loss of her husband is mingled with a grief for the loss of what could have been, if she hadn’t married. “Thinking back, I almost feel envious of that young schoolmistress. In fact, there is no almost about it.”
It feels as though both the young and the middle-aged versions of the narrator were coming of age together, in real time, walking toward one another to finally meet in the middle, in an embrace that is the cusp of some form of change.
“Such shifting winds in life. Therein the advantage of becoming older. One finds oneself with several lives, and may skip from one to another.” – Ida Jessen, A Change of Time
“This strange gravity, the peculiar peace that descends in the evenings when the houses turn inwards and people retire to bed, I have begun to expect it, to look forward. It requires so very little. That I am alone, and that darkness has fallen. That I light the lamp. That I gaze into its flame. I do not think of day.” – Ida Jessen, A Change of Time
About the book
- Archipelago Books, 2019, tr. Martin Aitken, 245 p. Goodreads
- Original: En ny tid, 2015
- My rating: 4 stars
- This book was kindly sent to me by Archipelago Books for review