Cover image for Will and testament : a novel
Will and testament : a novel
Uniform Title:
Arv og miljø. English
English-language ed.
Physical Description:
330 pages ; 20 cm.
General Note:
Translated from Norwegian.

"Originally published as Arv og miljø in 2016"--Title page verso.
Added Author:
Four siblings. Two summer houses. One terrible secret. When a dispute over her parents' will grows bitter, Bergljot is drawn back into the orbit of the family she fled twenty years before. Her mother and father have decided to leave two island summer houses to her sisters, disinheriting the two eldest siblings from the most meaningful part of the estate. To outsiders, it is a quarrel about property and favoritism. But Bergljot, who has borne a horrible secret since childhood, understands the gesture as something very different - a final attempt to suppress the truth and a cruel insult to the grievously injured. Will and Testament is a lyrical meditation on trauma and memory, as well as a furious account of a woman's struggle to survive and be believed. --


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Four siblings. Two summer houses. One terrible secret. To what degree should the horrors of the past be allowed to shake the present? Stalked by the darkest of shadows from her childhood, a woman struggles against the tide dragging her back to the family she fled years ago. This emotionally searing novel is at once a wrenching look at a family fractured and a meditation on the nature of trauma and memory.

Author Notes

Vigdis Hjorth was born in 1959. She grew up in Oslo and has lived in Copenhagen, Bergen, Switzerland and France. She is the author of over a dozen novels. She has won numerous liteary awards in Scandinavia, including the Dobloug Prize in 2018.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A long-suppressed family secret comes to light in Hjorth's captivating, psychologically intense novel, a bestseller in her native Norway. Bergljot, a magazine editor living in Lier, Norway, is a mother to three adult children and no longer speaks to her own parents and younger siblings. But Bergljot and her brother Bård get back in touch after a conflict erupts over cabins their parents have willed only to their other children, Astrid and Åsa. Bård is seeking support from Bergljot, enraged by what he sees as an unfair division of inheritance. But Bergljot is less concerned with the cabins than with her family's history of denial. When, 23 years earlier, she tried to tell her family about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, her mother "refused to believe," and Bergljot became "an outcast who threatened the family honour." Now, for the sake of justice and her own sanity, Bergljot decides she must try again to make her family acknowledge what happened. Bergljot emerges as a damaged but heroic figure; she drinks too much and is constantly on the phone with her children and her friend Klara, yet she is determined to forgive and to live a full life; "to be fundamentally unhappy, shaken and rattled to your core, and yet still experience moments of happiness." Hjorth's thoughtful, drily funny, and often devastating novel will leave a deep and lasting impression on readers. (Sept.)

Guardian Review

Vigdis Hjorth draws on real-life abuse in a novel that caused rifts with her family and sensation in her native Norway. When published in Vigdis Hjorth's native Norway in 2016, Will and Testament became both a bestseller and a literary scandal. The story is narrated by Bergljot, who was sexually abused by her father as a child. Having been long estranged from her parents, and her sisters who sided with them, Bergljot is drawn back into a family argument over inheritance, and specifically who gets a pair of holiday cabins. The real-life media furore stemmed from the fact that Hjorth drew on her own family history, even prompting a rebuttal - in the form of another novel - by her sister Helga Hjorth. But Vigdis Hjorth has also insisted Will and Testament is fiction, and indeed it bears the subtitle "A Novel" on the cover. It certainly has the bite of authenticity. The pain feels both festering and fresh: reading it is like watching someone peel back layers of not-quite-healed skin to probe a wound. Hjorth skips around, so the saga of the cabins is interspersed with Bergljot's memories, one such being the moment when, as a grown woman, she remembers what her father did to her. There's a lot of psychoanalysis, buckets of Freud. Bergljot examines the abuse in the light of her parents' dysfunctional relationship - her father's obsessive desire for control; her mother forced to see Bergljot as a sexual rival in ways that leave you queasy: "Mum was, a vulnerable, shapely woman for as long as that lasted, it doesn't last, it fades and younger, more attractive women appear; she can even give birth to them herself." But there is also much that feels grubbily quotidian. Bergljot's emails, letters and conversations with her family are planned and justified over multiple phone calls to friends; replies are pored over and disputed. Hjorth uses repetition, line by line and scene by scene, in a way that feels truthful of someone trying to process trauma. But it's also stultifying - especially given her fondness for comma splices, racking up seven, 10, 13 clauses. It's a stylistic choice some may love; I found it exhausting. What Hjorth does powerfully convey is how not being believed can be as damaging for victims as the original trauma. Will and Testament is a reminder that it's easier to hide darkness than face it. Some of the best bits widen this out to a societal level: Hjorth argues cogently that conflicts and atrocities often stem from what a nation represses or denies. Still, it's understandable why the book caused outrage, given the gravity of what it implies. There's something uncomfortable about so vehemently insisting on the need to face the truth - and then insisting on your work's status as fiction.

Kirkus Review

Prizewinning Norwegian novelist Hjorth (Talk To Me, 2010, etc.) mines an inheritance dispute among four siblings to delve into the burden of family secrets and the ripple effects of early childhood trauma.Bergljot, a divorced writer with three grown children, cut off contact with her parents years ago and has no expectation of being included in their will. But when there's a dispute over two summer cabins, she sides with her brother and finds herself pulled back into the family she has worked desperately to escape. "The street of my childhood," a friend remarks, quoting a Danish poet, "is the root of my being." Her childlike mother and her younger sisters want to deny her early abuse by their domineering father; her brother has his own damage to contend with. "What was it like to be a normal human being?" she wonders. "I didn't know." The strength of the novel lies in Bergljot's convincing and continuing vulnerability, in her mixed feelings and her flaws. "The presence of my lost childhood, the constant return of this loss had made me who I was." She hates her mother for not being able to protect her but tries to feel compassion, even for her father. The drama heightensthere are confrontations, an overdose, a death, pleas for reconciliation, a sealed letter in a safebut it's her desire to be believed and truly seen that drives the narrative forward. There are no easy resolutions here. Describing the night outside the pizzeria where she finally meets her mother again after years of estrangement, Bergljot says: "It was the kind of darkness that falls, the kind of darkness that flows and spreads, that penetrates buildings and houses and takes over no matter how many lights you turn on, no matter how many candles you put on the table and in the windowsills, no matter how many torches you light...a darkness full of knives."A cleareyed and convincing story of a family's doomed attempt to reconcile and the limits of forgiveness. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.