The dream of a cigarette packetLuccaJens Christian Grondahltrans Anne Born 378 pp, Canongate The one moment of high drama in Grondahl’s otherwise scrupulously restrained novel occurs on the first page: a beautiful young actress, Lucca Mon tale, is seriously injured in a motorway collision, and loses her sight as a result. This traumatic event is the starting point for an account of everything which led up to it: an emotional history, which sets out to show the interconnectedness, as well as the randomness, of lives, and the way that seemingly inconsequential acts can have far-reaching consequences. Initially, the details of Lucca’s story emerge only in fragments, pieced together by Robert, the surgeon who has saved her life. From this account, we learn not only that Lucca’s marriage is on the rocks, and that the reckless driving which led to her accident was precipitated by a quarrel with her husband, but a good deal about Robert himself. His passion for music, his fondness for solitary walks along the beach, and the fact that he is still getting over a failed marriage, all contribute towards a subtly drawn portrait of a man whose professional altruism only reinforces his detachment from others. Later, the narrative shifts to Lucca’s memories of her life before the accident.
Her marriage to Andreas, a sexy but self-centred playwright, is described, as well as her affairs with several other men. Inevitably, in a novel whose central metaphors are those of blindness and sight, there is a sharply visual quality to these passages. Our first glimpse of Lucca, as she is swimming in the “unresisting silver mirror” of the sea, is one of many such images connecting her with light (“the sunlight flashed in the drops caught in her eyelashes”), which also serve to underline the hidden pun in her name – that of an Italian city, but also that of St Lucia, the patron saint of sight. Lucca’s life, w learn, has been “one long flight” from one lover to the next, as she attempts to find the man who will take the place of her adored father, by whom she was abandoned as a child. This Freudian subtext is underscored almost too heavily in places, when, after rejecting the advances of her stepfather, Lucca journeys to Italy in search of her father, only to end up living with Harry, a man twice her age, who directs her in her first leading role – in Strindberg’s The Father. Robert, too, it transpires, has been in search of an elusive Other Half, a woman as mysterious and beautiful as the dancing gypsy on the discarded Gita nes packet he finds one day on the beach.
... in her life, sort of meaning for her existence. While in Grand Isle, a summer resort, she meets a man name Robert. Robert is ... satisfied with her marriage to Leonce Pontellier, who is a wealthy New Orleans businessperson of forty, and the father of their two ... when she swims. She no longer feels satisfied about her marriage to Leonce. She begins to get depressed at night when ...
Only when he meets Lucca does his quest end. While the novel’s plot is all too reminiscent of numerous popular novels and films in which two people damaged by experience learn that love is still possible, the quality of the writing lifts it out of the realms of banality. From the beautifully controlled opening pages, whose clipped, short sentences and deliberate use of understatement evoke the emotional aridity of Robert’s existence, to the richly sensual descriptions of places, food, and sex which punctuate Lucca’s account, Grondahl’s use of language is never less than sure. His propensity for philosophical turns of phrase, which in the hands of a lesser writer might seem forced (“if he sometimes thought to himself that love was like music, it was not because he was feeling poetic”), here seems entirely appropriate to the novel’s reflective mood. Lucca is already a bestseller in the author’s native Denmark; in Anne Born’s luminous translation, it deserves to be one here… Christina Koning’s novel Fabulous Time is published by Penguin.