Jens Christian Grondahl's stunning Silence in October could easily have been an embarrassingly mawkish trawl through the psyche of an artistic man in midlife crisis. In fact, it is a hugely moving investigation into the nature of conversation, art and relationships. The unnamed narrator is a Danish art critic who wakes one day to find his wife on her way out of the door; she looks at him as he rouses, tells him that she will be away for a while, and then leaves. His children have also only recently left home and now the silence in the house seems huge. He can't work on his writing and he can't settle on anything else either. A trip to New York looms.
The novel consists of his inner monologues--wonderfully handled by Grondahl ranging, as they do, back and forth in time, in long, flowing, allusive paragraphs--his thoughts on art, life and the women he has loved. Ines broke his heart as a young man who loved too hard, too overwhelmingly; Astrid put him back together. He questions why Astrid has gone, whether she's left for good, why he did not stop her, what their relationship was really about, what its strengths were and what he's "about" without her, without the ongoing conversation that is their relationship.
This is an absolutely superb novel. Anne Born's translation rarely wobbles and the full power of Grondahl's warm and penetrating prose comes over throughout. It is always difficult to write about love and relationships without relying on clichés, reverting back to truisms and settling for the approximate, but here we have writing of precision, profoundity and earnestness. Grondahl's work is quietly awe-inspiring and Silence in October is a tremendous novel that will leave a deep impression on any reader. --Mark Thwaite