Books

Cover of book: A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding

Amanda Svensson (translated by Nichola Smalley)
A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding

The peculiar thing about grief is that the world continues. Or, as Amanda Svensson writes, “Nothing ever ends, but everything ends.” Svensson’s newest novel, A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, considers how different textures of loss are experienced in a world that is always and never ending. Taking place a year “since what happened happened”, the book follows the lives of the Isaksson triplets, drifting between characters in elegant, striking prose. It begins with Sebastian Isaksson, whose brain’s synapses have been “burned out by grief”. At 26 years old, he has moved from Sweden to work at the mysterious London Institute for Cognitive Sciences. Sebastian’s sister Clara is on Easter Island, searching for a man who is waiting for the end of the world. In Sweden, loss takes on another form as their sister Matilda, a synaesthete, tries to escape the colour blue.

As the triplets’ lives fall apart and together in strange synchronicity, they are joined by an odd cast of characters: Laura Kadinsky, a woman who can only see in two dimensions; a “very moral monkey” who follows a strict Judaeo-Christian code; Jennifer Travis, a researcher obsessed with solving a seemingly endless and perhaps nefarious puzzle; and Elif, a starlet who spends her time waiting for her nemesis – the actor Dakota Fanning – to appear.

The Freudian term unheimlich appears early in the novel, pre-empting the doubles and doublings, shadows and ghosts, recurring images and disappearing persons that haunt the book. It is oddly comforting that against such an uncanny backdrop the banalities and joys of the world continue – characters still fall in love, quarrel, sit in discomfort and make amends. The beauty of Svensson’s work is in this precise balance: she maintains compelling emotional resonance amid a truly wild and sprawling world.

Originally published in Swedish as Ett system så magnifikt att det bländar (2021), Svensson has already received the Per Olov Enquist Literary Prize and the Svenska Dagbladet Literature Prize. The English edition, translated by Nichola Smalley, has a playful lyricism; I wouldn’t be surprised to see both names appear on the next International Booker Prize list. A truly delightful study of the contours of family, the limits of free will, and the end of the world as we know it, A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding is expansive and expanding. As Svensson herself writes: “The world is going under, the world is a wonder.” 

Scribe Publications, 544pp, $35

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 30, 2022 as "A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, Amanda Svensson (translated by Nichola Smalley) ".

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Leah Jing McIntosh is the editor of Liminal.

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