In this autofiction novel, Carolina Setterwall takes us on an intense, breath-taking journey through grief, motherhood, and love. This is a gut-wrenching novel which – on more than one occasion – left me close to tears and eager to cement those relationships that I have let drift away. Yet pity or sadness aren’t the only feelings explored in this book; we see the unfiltered humanity of our narrator and empathise with the muddled emotions that accompany such a whirlwind of events.
Grief, with all its intensity, is a feeling often explored in literature, yet in Let’s Hope For the Best it takes on a unique, unapologetic format that will resonate with many readers who have sadly experienced the same. The novel is inspired by Setterwall’s own life and tragedies, and because of this it has an added sense of rawness that we can find lacking in other narratives tackling the same subjects. Yet it isn’t only grief that is presented to us in this realistic manner. The novel also sees the narrator combine her feelings of loss with that of wanting to give life to her young son, and to connect with her family, friends, and new romantic partners too. Despite the overarching theme of grief, there isn’t really one emotion that is given priority in this narrative. Setterwall shows us a character who is desperately struggling to manage a myriad of emotions and events – while time does seemingly stand still for a moment following the tragedy, it ultimately moves forward, and the narrator knows and understands this too. She wants to rush through the part where she is past mourning Aksel’s death (which she believes will be one year later) and get back to being a good mother. While she juggles each daily task and comes to terms with has happened, there is also a delicate juggling of narrative representation in the novel, with regards to what theme is explored. Setterwell finds new, imaginative and realistic ways to describe this grief and growth, so that the reader never tires of the story or their journey within it.
Setterwall also makes the wise decision to split the novel into two sections, divided so because of their time setting. In the first, we jump back and forth between past and present, starting with the day of Aksel’s death and the day that Aksel and our narrator meet. We finish the section when the past catches up with the present and we have been taken on a detailed journey of their romantic relationship. The toing and froing works wonderfully in this respect; each chapter compliments the other. For example, a feeling or quirk discussed in the past surrounding their relationship, is also touched upon when our narrator is in mourning in the present day. This isn’t just a way for the reader to unearth more about their relationship, which of course does give more gravitas and meaning to the death of Aksel. But it is also an opportunity for the narrator herself to connect the moments in her relationship with how she should be feeling now. Aksel is unarguably an absent and difficult partner to love yet love him she did, and in a way that perhaps the reader will never understand. There is this sense of always moving forward, looking for the next thing, reaching for a better moment, which as a reader I related to heavily, particularly in this passage:
“No matter how hard I try, my restlessness, my fierce need to change and progress, wins out against every rational argument I make to myself to take it slow, wait a bit, live in the moment and rest. After a period of calm, it’s as if I’m helpless to resist my impulse to tear things down, to provoke, to wrench us from where we stand, to shake us until we collide and stumble, just to see where we’ll land. I don’t understand this about myself. I’m not sure I even like it about myself. Nevertheless, it happens over and over again.”
It is sections like these that remind me that this isn’t just a story about the life that has been lost but also about the life that has been left behind, and the complicated feelings that have troubled our narrator throughout their passionate relationship. Indeed, in the second part of the novel, once we have caught up with the present day, we find our narrator almost constantly moving forward and pressing towards the future. As time progresses, less direct mention to “you” (Aksel) is made, yet his presence is undoubtedly felt throughout. He never goes away, the narrator just learns to live around her grief, surrounding it with motherhood, a new relationship, and learning just what ‘the right thing’ to feel and do going forward, is.
Of course, this beautiful piece of prose would not have been made possible without the work of a marvellous translator. Indeed, among the beauty of the language and the level of which I immersed myself in the story, I had to remind myself that was still a piece of translated literature. Wessel has managed to recreate the intense tone of the novel, while never losing its striking hardiness. Nothing is compromised or lost in the translation (I can only assume of course) but rather, Wessel has given us a window to the magnificence of Setterwall’s perfect creation. You also get the sense that she must have really known and related to the story on a more personal level, like you would do as a captivated reader, to translate it into something of such readable, enjoyable excellence.
Let’s Hope for the Best is a novel of feeling, power, and exploration. I could never tire of Setterwall’s prose, or the many ways in which she described and unwound her narrator’s emotions. It sets out to confront us, to sadden us, to empower us – and it does just that. When it comes to grief, relationships, and motherhood, there is no ‘right way’ in which to write about any of it. But Let’s Hope for the Best is raw and uncompromising, which is much more than we can ask for in a novel of this complexity.
Let’s Hope For The Best is published by Bloomsbury and is available here.
Carolina Setterwall was born in 1978 in Sala, Sweden. After studying Media and Communication in Uppsala, Stockholm, and London she has worked within the music and publishing industries as an editor and writer.
Reviewed by Mariah Feria
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