My Friend Natalia: A Novel (Hardcover)
New York Times Book Review • Editors' Choice
Entertainment Weekly • Best Books of the Month
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One of Finland’s most dynamic novelists bursts onto the American literary scene with this erotic story of an ambitious therapist’s sessions with an unforgettable patient.
Natalia cannot stop thinking about sex.
With this mesmerizing tale of one woman’s potent affliction, award-winning Finnish writer Laura Lindstedt makes her American debut. Narrated by an unnamed, ungendered therapist who leaps at the chance to employ their most experimental methods, My Friend Natalia offers a gripping examination of the power dynamics always present but rarely ever spoken about in therapy. “Something flared within me,” the therapist notes, “and it wasn’t merely sympathy, the emotion I feel for most of my clients. It was more like a sudden experience of harmony, wholly inappropriate given the circumstances.”
It is clear from the moment Natalia barges into her new therapist’s office that she has motives beyond simply fixing her sex life. She is quick to mention that the same exact painting hanging on the therapist’s wall—an abstract piece titled Ear-Mouth—once hung in her grandmother’s living room. This comment deeply unsettles the therapist, as does the large alarm clock that Natalia brings with her, intent on timing the sessions herself. And the tape recorder.
At first, Natalia seems to play along with the rules of therapy. She partakes in the therapist’s pain-displacement exercises, word games, and even produces a few anatomical illustrations. She muses on the art of pornography, and boldly examines seminal figures like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, about whom she poses the question, “Did Jean-Paul consider Simone a woman at all? Or was she nothing but a pencil sharpener?” By combining philosophy and literature, repressed childhood memories and explicitly unrepressed erotic experiences, the sessions quickly shed all inhibitions. Still, the therapist can’t help but wonder: What does Natalia really want?
Brilliantly translated by the award-winning David Hackston, My Friend Natalia buzzes in prose charged with sharp banter and double entendres as the therapist hurls strange—and hilarious—experimental exercises at Natalia, and their work builds to an explosive climax. In taking a deconstructive yet utterly scintillating approach to the self-help narratives of our time, Laura Lindstedt emerges as a rare and unflinching international literary talent.
About the Author
Laura Lindstedt is the author of Oneiron, winner of the Finlandia Prize—the country’s highest literary honor. She lives in Helsinki.
David Hackston is a British translator of Finnish and Swedish literature and drama. His translation of Pajtim Statovci’s Crossing was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Sly, intriguing.... The deeper, indeed more layered, mystery is, it emerges, the novel’s chimerical narrator.
— Hermione Hoby - New York Times Book Review
This provocative Finnish author enters the fray of American literature (thanks to translation from David Hackston) with a racy, wonderfully weird novel about a therapist's sessions with a sex-obsessed woman.
— Seija Rankin, Entertainment Weekly, "Best New Books of March"
Lindstedt’s novel reads like the love child of a pornographer and a high theorist: Derrida meets Anaïs Nin. Ultimately, this is as much a novel about language as it is about sexuality or psychology, and translator Hackston has performed a virtuosic task capturing the Finnish pyrotechnics in English. Lindstedt may not be looking to make an exact analogy between the work of therapy and the work an artist does, but it’s hard not to read this as an ars poetica: 'If you talk a lot,' the therapist says, 'the sorrow might permanently change shape.' Bawdy and beguiling.
— Kirkus Reviews
Throughout the novel, Natalia riffs on Sartre, Beauvoir, and others, baiting the psychologist with sexually charged critiques of patriarchal philosophy.
— Publishers Weekly
I was tremendously impressed by My Friend Natalia. . . . Laura Lindstedt has a very Finnish take on sophistication (downbeat, deadpan), is disconcerting, dissonant, peerless in deferred resolution, a blithe dissolver of the regular association of ideas. Why did I not use lockdown to learn Finnish? Why?
— Helen DeWitt
Smart, dark, funny, and weirdly exhilarating, Laura Lindstedt’s My Friend Natalia is both pitched on the brink and absolutely alive. An absorbing discourse of sex, power, and boundaries, in sentences that lift like music.
— Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World