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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Johanne, Johanne

Lars Sidenius

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To purchase Johanne, Johanne

Title: Johanne, Johanne
Author: Lars Sidenius
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: Johanne, Johanne - US
Johanne, Johanne - UK
Johanne, Johanne - Canada
  • Danish title: Johanne, Johanne ...
  • Translated by Paul Larkin

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Our Assessment:

B- : has its moments, but form proves too limiting

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 2/5/2016 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Told entirely through a womanís text messages, Sideniusís debut never lives up to the novelty of its intriguing conceit. (...) The book skims over the sensual and fraught nature of an affair, instead relying on repetitive sexting. Johanneís texts fail to reveal much about womanhood, sexuality, literature, or relationships." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Johanne, Johanne is a novel presented entirely in the form of one side of a back-and-forth of SMS/text-messages, a collection of the texts sent by Johanne -- the young, unhappily married mother of a toddler -- to her lover, the considerably older (he has a grown son) Jonah during the nine or so months of their affair.
       Johanne and Jonah both inhabit a bookish world -- both work in publishing -- and the novel has a suggestive epigraph from Madame Bovary:

From that moment onwards, her life was a tangled web of lies, with which she veiled her love in order to conceal it.
       Just in case this doesn't make enough of an impression on readers, Sidenius doesn't go two pages without bringing up the book again -- as Johanne's first literary gift to Jonah. Jonah's own literary bona fides are impressively on display here too -- he got Johanne to have a look at Mário de Andrade's Macunaíma (damn, yes !) --, suggesting he's well-read; it seems inconceivable he's not familiar with Madame Bovary, and so an early question is what exactly Johanne is signaling with her all-too-obvious gift.
       Perhaps it's her availability -- Jonah gave her his business card, but she's the one to follow-up and make the advances. Johanne is apparently up for some adventure, finding herself bogged down in a domestic situation that isn't what she dreamed of. She admits she was probably: "bit 2 young 2 make that choice" to have a kid, and as to her husband Gustav:
our marriage is a sham. I mostly sleep on the sofa -- and when I do sleep in our double bed Lærke lies in between us and nothing happens. I mean nothing happens ! the whole thing has been reduced 2 nothing more than a latté together in a cafe with Lærke tagging along :)
       Jonah seems on board, and texting quickly transitions to sexting, with Johanne constantly letting Jonah know how much she enjoyed their intimate time together and how eager and ready she is for more:
Oh Jonah ur texts set off such mad desire in me
       Of course the one-sided presentation means readers have to take her word for everything. Much that she writes is in response to Jonah's texts -- a back and forth where readers only see one side of the conversation -- but even beyond that it is an oddly limited perspective. Johanne sometimes refers to their actual conversations and interactions (and their sex) -- but of course the very nature of texts means that she is separated from Jonah when communicating with him in this manner. It's a lot to ask for the texts alone -- even in such large number -- to fill in the blanks and make for a clearer picture of the people involved -- and Sidenius only succeeds to a very limited extent.
       Jonah knocks Johanne up early on, but that situation is almost casually dealt with; meanwhile, Jonah's heart problems hover over the affair almost the entire time -- symbolically too, even if Sidenius can't quite do enough with that.
       It might all work, but Johanne's texting-voice can, to put it mildly, be grating -- and sexts, out of most of their context, are not really all that appealing. "Im tired of myself ffs", Johanne texts, at a point where readers know the feeling .....
       There are some decent touches along the way, and also in the resolution -- where the otherwise so garrulous Johanne explicitly withholds information from Jonah (she explains that she can't tell him: "cuz not all the affected parties have been informed yet", and that there are: "a few others who are b4u in the queue"). But overall Johanne's acknowledgement: "I admit its a bummer ur being informed by text" applies too easily to the novel as a whole, Sidenius not quite up to the challenge of the limitations of the form he's imposed on his work.
       Johanne, Johanne may well have worked better if Sidenius had offered a lot more -- or pared it down into a tighter story. At this middling length, however, what impact it has gets dulled, yet there isn't enough substance and nuance to compensate for that. Of course the texts-on-a-page format is almost inevitably a challenging one; one wonders whether the book might work better in its more natural one -- texted, on a phone. (Hopefully, that's what the 'e-version' looks like.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 August 2016

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Johanne, Johanne: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Lars Sidenius was born in 1949.

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