In this English translation of Lucca, Jens Christian Grøndahl’s 1998 prize-winning novel, the title character is a Danish actress who is blinded in an auto accident after her husband asks for a separation. She is attended by Robert, a doctor who retreated two years ago to a provincial hospital near Copenhagen after a sad and guilty divorce. He misses his adolescent daughter, who visits on alternate weekends, while Lucca refuses every visitor except her young son; but if one anticipates a typical romance between misfits, one would be wrong.
The book consists of intricate flashbacks within flashbacks, revealing the characters’ past lives. Both Robert and Lucca are untethered, abandoned as children by their fathers (whom they unsuccessfully seek) and raised by emotionally detached mothers. Ironically, young Lucca receives her first big break in August Strindberg’s play The Father, takes its revered older director as her lover, and then casually drops him. Both she and Robert have affairs, although hers are more numerous; both engage in a frantic search for love and are always disappointed; both marry disastrously. They remain distanced from the reader, and their inability to act decisively is maddening.
Grøndahl’s style is characterized by a remarkable lack of dialogue, an excess of narrative, and a truly lovely evocation of landscape. He uses indirect conversation to underscore his characters’ detachment. However, if the novel is viewed through the lens of European existentialism, their alienation makes more sense. If existence is really essence, action, or rebellion, then their previous lives have been a kind of non-existence. Such a view may also suggest that if they can finally give up their desperate search for love, if they are willing to renounce desire and simply live, they may then find a measure of comfort.