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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Don't Leave Me

Stig Sæterbakken

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To purchase Don't Leave Me

Title: Don't Leave Me
Author: Stig Sæterbakken
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 210 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Don't Leave Me - US
Don't Leave Me - UK
Don't Leave Me - Canada
  • Norwegian title: Ikke forlat meg
  • Translated by Seán Kinsella

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Our Assessment:

B : strong voice, effective -- but oh so dark

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dagbladet . 26/10/2009 Maya Troberg

  From the Reviews:
  • "Med eleganse og letthet serveres en kompleks historie -- om eksistensiell ensomhet og avsondrethet, indre raseri og mørke." - Maya Troberg, Dagbladet

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       There's desperation in the title already, and Sæterbakken immediately dashes hopes of any happy end to this tale with the short first section, titled: 'Death in June' ..... Don't Leave Me is basically the story of a relationship, between Aksel and Amalie, but Sæterbakken doesn't unfold it like your usual love story; rather, he unspools it in reverse, beginning with the (yes, not so happy) end. There are seven sections to the novel, each going further back in time, all the way back to early in Aksel's childhood.
       Sæterbakken asks a lot from his readers. Not just to plunge backwards through time in a story which has already ended badly, but also to inhabit the character: Amalie is 'she' here, but Aksel is forced onto the reader, and the reader into Aksel, as 'you', as this is a novel written in the second person. And Aksel is a decidedly difficult 'you' to inhabit -- from the very start, as the novel begins:

     Picture it. You're twenty-one years old and you know your life is over. Society is evil. Everybody is evil. If you had a nuclear bomb you wouldn't hesitate.
       (The effect is even stronger now, as readers now come to the novel with the knowledge that Sæterbakken himself committed suicide less than three years after its publication.)
       Presented in this manner, the reader is first confronted, head on, with the collapse of the relationship and Aksel's awkward, angry, self-defeating (re)actions leading to the inevitable outcome. The difference between the two lovers is clear -- and reflected in how the story is presented and the characters do (and don't) develop:
She's grown bigger, you've grown smaller. She's matured and become a woman, you've shrunk and become a kid.
       Sæterbakken has some nice imagery of Aksel and Amalie drifting apart, even before they really know it:
Then the bus comes, she tears herself away and gets on, you standing looking after her, a yellow figure walking down the aisle reaching out for every second seat on the side, the bus pulling out and accelerating away, and for a moment the movements offset one another, the bus going forward, her going backward, for a few seconds the distance between the two of you is the same, even though in reality she's moving away from you at speed.
       The book only briefly, rarely, offers equilibrium. The relationship develops and shifts, as relationships are wont to do; for the most part, Aksel doesn't help matters, as Sæterbakken expertly catches the awkwardness of young love for a tortured soul.
       Moving even further back in time, we see what made Aksel the person he is. With its conclusion already laid out at the outset, Don't Leave Me very much feels like a novel of predetermined fate, and the earlier chapters strongly reinforce that impression. One is left thinking: How could it come otherwise ?
       The sections are divided into short chapters, scenes from Aksel's life, the focus always on him -- who is: 'you'. Sæterbakken does these scenes and vignettes well, but a lot of them are painful too -- and not just at the beginning of the novel (i.e. the end of the story). In an interview the author joked that he had finally written a novel with a happy end, and the concluding bit is, indeed, devastatingly hopeful. But, of course, there's no happy end here, whatever glimmer of hope he concludes with undone by all that followed in Aksel's life, and the now completed novel.
       Effective and quite powerful, Don't Leave Me is also very bleak, a tough to take story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 August 2016

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Don't Leave Me: Reviews: Other books by Stig Sæterbakken under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Stig Sæterbakken lived 1966 to 2012.

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© 2016 the complete review

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