Fiction Linn Ullmann Before You Sleep

ISBN 13: 9780140298338

Before You Sleep

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9780140298338: Before You Sleep

The acclaimed debut novel of passion and subtlety that links three generations of eccentric, formidable women.
 
Through the sublimely unreliable voice of its narrator, Karin, Before You Sleep reaches back from present day Oslo to 1930s Brooklyn to relate the emotional legacies of the Blom family. Karin is both playful and melancholy—a serial seductress who defines herself in contrast to the women in her life: her mother Anni, alluring, manipulative, and melodramatic; her sister Julie, a wife and mother nearly undone by suspicions of her husband’s infidelity; her aunt Selma, “the world’s angriest old woman”; and her soldier grandmother June, who bets that Karin will be the best damn soldier of them all. Inventive and wise, funny and disquieting, Before You Sleep marks the arrival of a gifted new literary voice.
 
“Ullmann creates such a powerful mood of intimacy here that the reader feels like a part of the family.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“Ullmann’s imagination . . . is formed by a love of the intricacies of family life, of the ties that bind.”—The New Yorker

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Review:

Karin Blom, the narrator of Linn Ullmann's Before You Sleep is neither irresistible like her mother, Anni, nor beautiful like her sister, Julie, but as it turns out, this might be a very good thing. For short, dark, scrappy Karin is the survivor in a family filled with fractured personalities:

If I tried to describe my family, and that's exactly what I'm going to do, you could probably say that Anni drank to forget. I drank to be happy. Father drank just to keep going. Grandma drank to sleep better at night. Aunt Selma drank to be even meaner than she already was.
And Julie, Karin informs us, is the only one who drinks sensibly--"unfortunately! It did her no good. She didn't forget, she wasn't happy, she couldn't sleep and she was never mean." Told mainly in flashback, Ullmann's first novel traces the unhappy history of the Blom family--Anni's mother, June, and her sister Selma, whose rivalry over Anni's father caused a permanent rift; Anni's own unsuccessful union with Karin and Julie's father; and Julie's failing marriage to a man she's sure is unfaithful to her. Ullmann takes the reader from Norway to New York and back again as she weaves past into present, gradually creating a fully dimensional portrait of these women and their relationships to men and to each other. If Anni gets by on charm and melodrama, and Julie on her beauty, then Karin relies on a combination of willpower and lies to carry her through. In the end, it seems her strategy is best.

If the emotional tangles and subtle workings of this novel seem reminiscent of an Ingmar Bergman film, Linn Ullmann comes by it honestly. The daughter of Bergman and the actress Liv Ullmann, she has inherited her father's eye for what lies beneath the most placid-seeming surfaces, and her mother's less-is-more delivery. But Ullmann is a talent unto herself, and the novel's rather downbeat themes are nicely buoyed by Karin's slightly sardonic narrative. --Margaret Prior

About the Author:

Born in 1966, Linn Ullmann has lived most of her life in New York City and Oslo. A graduate of New York University, Ullmann has worked as a literary critic at one of Norway's leading newspapers since 1993. She currently lives in Oslo with her eight year old son.
Tiina Nunnally is an award-winning translator of Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish. Her translation for Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow, won the Lewis Galantiere Prize, given to the American Translators Association.

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