Review: ‘Ti Amo’ by Hanne Ørstavik

Ti Amo

Written in roughly ten days, Ti Amo serves as a letter to the author’s dying husband; a way of stumbling through memories, both shared and sorely private. Places dashed through on book tours, tastes both craved and satisfied, raucous parties and, finally, the terrain of physical agony all merge to buttress Ørstavik’s runaway thoughts.

In Martin Aitken’s translation, emotion assaults us from the first page; the first sentence, in fact. With the words “I love you” acting as both a token and a relic, poignancy drools ink onto white spaces. It speaks of yearning and tragedy, helplessness and dread.

Run-on sentences spit out narrative confusion, personal bewilderment, and virulent fear. That’s because, in Ti Amo, death no longer dons its abstract form; it settles comfortably in the author’s lap, demanding attention, retaliating for any negligence.

When they go unanswered for too long, thoughts of mortality begin to paw at the present, the mind, and the fabric of the relationship, distorting all three. Aware of its sudden complexity, the author’s affection wrenches and gyrates, seeking another body to inhabit — one decidedly more spirited. And so, fronted with a sudden, “electric” attraction to a man that appears only as “A” in the text, the author embarks on a brutally frank restoration of the self.

In that sense, the novel is far more personal than relational. It’s a way of finding words without acknowledging their sound, of detailing intimate transformations to someone who’d be shattered by their foreignness. As a result, the vulnerability that tears through the page is woefully human, meaning that it’s both clumsy and adaptable.

Ørstavik’s grievance against having to share her partner with his imminent — and permanent — absence gives way to the kind of loneliness that erodes, in turn revealing the gauche patterns of self-preservation. Freed, they subvert the reader’s expectations, tracing the marred shape of a parting yoke rather than two beings crushed together, trying to fuse and die out jointly.

The difference in energies is weighed up, the hunger for new thrills and desires gains both thickness and muscle. This turn of events is unexpected and painful to ponder, especially in light of Spagnol’s unerring tenderness towards his wife. But, then again, the reality of life is rarely as well-ordered as its fabrications. 

It’s no surprise, then, that the sour notes in the prose reflect the fermentation of the most delicate of fruit, simulating the natural process of decay. Its flavor is as convoluted as the nature of human sentiment, allowing the author to break down repeatedly over the loss of one love while simultaneously recognizing the breadth of the emotion; the way it saturates — and overpowers— the physical.

To house this growing perplexity, the text delivers thoughts that are hastily jotted down on the page. In the end, while braided and overlayed to create a fitting atmosphere, these musings can feel a little slipshod to an objective listener. On a personal level, however, they must prove invaluable.

Publication date: September 13, 2022 (Archipelago)

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