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The Looking-Glass Sisters

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  142 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Far out on the plains of northern Norway stands a house. It belongs to two middle-aged sisters. They seldom venture out and nobody visits. The younger needs nursing and the older never dared to leave. Until one day a man arrives. The women realise quickly that only one can stay. 'On the surface this book presents the gripping drama of the conflict between two sisters. Howe ...more
Paperback, 174 pages
Published September 25th 2015 by Peirene Press (first published 2008)
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Since discovering Peirene Press, a publisher of novellas in English translation, I’ve been keen to try more of their little gems. This is the second of four novels from Gabrielsen, a Norwegian author who lives in the far north of the country in a region called Finnmark. It’s an isolated place she uses to good effect in this novel about two sisters whose lives change – and not for the better – when one of them gets married.

I reign as queen in my room, in spite of the dust and the dirt. I have the
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
2020 Bail Review: I tried this again at the end of 2020, after bailing on page 76 three years ago. I got to page 60 this time and reached the same conclusion: a book about awful people doing awful things to each other simply does not hold my interest.

2017 Bail Review: Yeah, no...this tale of two of the most perfectly detestable women in literature would likely have ended up being the last book I read in 2017. I will not completely taint the year that way. I like dark stories, and I don’t mind un
Another essay-sized review. I've been slogging at this thing on and off for a couple of months, which was ridiculous and wearing; time to draw a line under it and post.

If this book had been set a century earlier, I might have rated it more highly. As it is, I'm going to do something that I think there is way too much of on Goodreads already (albeit not for this particular book): concentrate on the issue of minority representation. It is useful to look from the other side sometimes, to keep thing
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

This is an emotionally intense and sinister book that will leave you thinking about relationships with close family members long after you finish the last page. The focus of the book is on the codependence of two sisters who are each other’s only remaining relatives after their parents die. When the book opens they are middle-aged and have been living together in isolation on the outskirts of rural Norway for almost 30 years.

The first sister, the
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
The first offering in English by acclaimed Norwegian author Gohril Gabrielsen has been published by the marvellous Peirene Press, making it their eighteenth title, and the final instalment in 2015’s Chance Encounter series. For those who do not know, Peirene focus upon translating European novella-length works, which would otherwise probably completely pass us by in the United Kingdom.

Translated by John Irons, The Looking-Glass Sisters – first published in Norway in 2008 – is a stunning and inte
Marina Sofia
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very emotionally draining, dark and bitter book. Works beautifully with the harsh Finnmark climate. Passages of great lyrical intensity and wonderfully done unreliable narration. Made me glad I don't have a sister... ...more
This is a tragedy about a woman who yearns for love but ends up in a painfully destructive conflict with her sister. It is also a story about loneliness – both geographical and psychological. Facing the prospect of a life without love, we fall back into isolating delusions at exactly the moment when we need to connect.<÷blockquote>

Mieke Ziervogel, Peirene Press

Two sisters have lived in the same house all their lives, their parents long gone and they can barely tolerate each other. They are boun
Nancy Freund
Mar 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a weird book -- an unusual reading experience, that is. Repetitive and bleak with no likeable characters, but I was drawn to it and to whipping through it, page after page. It's quite a short novel, that reads with a singular focus like a short story normally would. In fact, it's very reminiscent of the 1892 short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Gilman Perkins. In 'The Looking Glass Sisters' we have an even less reliable narrator, but the themes of abduction, isolation, female ...more
Kate Gardner
Dec 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the story of two middle-aged sisters, Ragna and her younger sister, who narrates the book. The narrator suffered a childhood illness that has left her body severely weakened, so that she never leaves the house and is largely dependent on Ragna. They have lived together alone since the death of their parents and their relationship is bitter and twisted, but it works…until a man comes into Ragna’s life. Johan upsets the delicate balance, revealing alternative paths for the sisters.

You coul
Jul 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Three unsavory characters make up this disturbing narrative of family dysfunction.
Jun 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Novella set in NORWAY

This review first appeared on our blog: http://www.tripfiction.com/novella-se...

If you put the Norwegian title of The Looking Glass Sisters (Svimlende muligheter, ingen frykt) into Google translate it comes out as Dizzying Possibilities, No Fear, which is sufficiently cryptic to explain why the publisher decided to change it in the English version. Literary translation is a tricky business and sometimes even the professionals have to admit defeat, recognizing that there are
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
Another hard and unrelenting read from Peirene Press, but I didn't love this one like I did White Hunger. The Looking Glass Sisters is powerful and bitter, with some extraordinary passages about the primal determination to survive. At the same time it's claustrophobic and overblown, and the sisters are so dehumanised that it's difficult to feel compassion for either of them. I was left feeling decidedly low. ...more
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
First of all, I have to give credit to John Irons who translated this from Norwegian. The beauty of Gabrielsen's voice gleams, unmarred. Even the wordplay is intact (or at least believable).

I'm still not entirely sure what actually happened in this novel, but the emotional truths resonated strongly with me. The atmosphere is pitch perfect, from the aching fragility, to the rich, black soil, to the cold, white horror that pervades it all.

Think Shirley Jackson meets Jeanette Winterson.
Aug 27, 2015 added it
North Finland, cold, bleak, remote - add in the relationship between 2 sisters one of whom is dependent on the other and the resentment that emerges when a man comes on the scene. A unique story, excellent written.
Oct 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Some beautiful writing
Written in a tone that really suits the characters and landscapes & which is maintained throughout.
Will definitely be picking up more books in the Peirene Press Chance Encounters series in the future!
Sep 13, 2017 added it
Shelves: fiction
disturbing and sinister but good
"A life devoted to looking after a shabby, sickly sister out in the wilds"
By sally tarbox on 7 April 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
Some of the Peirene novellas are compulsive reading, unputdownable...this isn't one of them, and I struggled through the 180 pages for well over a week.
Set in the remote North of Norway, it's narrated by a middle-aged disabled woman. Confined to the house, she is completely dependant on her elder sister, Ragna, for absolutely everything. Ragna is resentful, vengeful... b
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it
A strange book set in the far north of Norway. Two middle-aged sisters have shared the house where they grew up for many years. The old sister had an illness at the age of 4 that means she can't walk, and her body appears to have steadily wasted away over the years. The older sister hasn't left the house for years, and the younger rarely leaves as well. A man enters their lives, and everything changes. Written from the perspective of the older sister, it's weird, dark, and at times hard to follo ...more
Annette Morris
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Intense, claustrophobic and grim. A gripping story starkly told, unrelenting and raw. Not a warm and cosy read. Do not read if you need cheering up. Do read if you can handle something powerful and harsh and as cold as the climate of northern Norway in which it's set. ...more
Apr 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: litlit, solitude, bellow
I found this to be an interesting thought exercise about an internal conflict, but while skimming I see a lot of reviews for a very different book.  As with the other dark and bleak novellas I've read recently, my mood determines whether I can enjoy it or hate it.  I enjoyed this one. ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Very irritating..

Mental note: I need to be more present in the passing minutes that shape my life.
Jamie Polivka
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
I’ve loved all the Pierene Press books I’d read until this one. I’m not even sure the point of it all.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in the middle of nowhere.
Rob Forteath
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
This reads like a community theatre play for three characters in a one-room set. I imagine this set being a kitchen with an attic above it. Even though the book is not particularly long, there is plenty of time to explore the characters of the two sisters (Johan is barely a character at all).

It is quickly established that the two sisters have personalities that are completely and utterly different -- not opposites, but as though one complete person had been divided into two. One practical, one i
Anne Goodwin
Sep 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: translations
Two middle-aged sisters live together on the edge of the moors in a remote part of northern Norway. They experience little of life beyond their house although the elder, Ragna, occasionally ventures into the village for provisions. The younger sister and (I think) unnamed chronicler of their lonely existence has been disabled since childhood, dragging her withered legs around on crutches, which function as both mobility aid and weapon. Their mutual resentment at their dependence on each other fo ...more
Definitely not for everybody. I spent most of the book wondering which character to hate the most.

I seem to be on a roll when it comes to picking out depressing contemporary Norwegian literature. It also seems to be mainly written by women in their 20's/30's.

It's like they all took the same writing class. And like they all want to show what a horrid, inhuman place Norway is. Either way, it works, because the books are pretty good.

I may not be the only one who has noticed the trend. I saw an ar
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
The story whisks us away to the icy plains of Norway and into the rather claustrophobic "huis clos" of two elderly sisters. The one who narrates the story is never named and she has a "madwoman in the attic" role - since a childhood illness took away the use of her legs, her big sister Ragna has had to become her constant housemaid and carer, leading to a real love-hate relationship between the two.

full review on my blog : http://madhousefamilyreviews.blogspot...
Dec 05, 2015 rated it did not like it
I skimmed a lot. So much misery, just for the sake of it and because Norway. There's enough content here to make a good, creepy little short story, but the author stretches the plot over 180ish pages and boy does it drag. We get it, the narrator is disabled and dependent on her sister and Ragna and Johan are horrible. Also, wouldn't the narrator be overjoyed at the prospect of going into a carehome if she thinks Ragna and Johan are so toxic? ...more
Aug 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Another good Peirene book.
Very bleak and despairing, it left me feeling depressed.
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Gøhril Jeanne Gabrielsen (born 14 January 1961) is a Norwegian writer. She grew up in Finnmark, but now lives in Oslo. Gabrielsen's debut novel Unevnelige hendelser (Unspeakable Events) came out in 2006 and was well received by critics, winning Aschehoug’s First Book Award. She has published several other novels, including Svimlende muligheter, ingen frykt (The Looking-Glass Sisters) and Skadedyr ...more

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