The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for still living with your parents


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Ailment: Still living with your parents

Cure: The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik

In these days of impossible mortgages and prohibitive rents, cutting the strings from your parents can be hard to do. Many offspring find themselves still living with their progenitors well into their thirties. While this is not necessarily an ailment in itself, of course, it can be a tense and trying time – and we're not just talking for the children. Establishing a new parent-child dynamic is vital; and Norwegian writer Hanne Ørstavik's haunting novel will act as a warning to everyone not to regress into old, interdependent ways.

Twenty-four-year-old Johanne is studying to be a psychotherapist. She dreams of having her own practice one day and is saving up to make her dream a reality. Living at home with her mother, and keeping her expenses to a minimum, is an essential part of her plan. The pair mostly get on well: both are deeply Christian, and each constantly tells the other how wonderful they are. But the underlying tensions soon bubble to the surface – the mother has regular sex with a married man behind a curtain that inadequately screens her room; while she does her best to dissuade Johanne from receiving attentions from any of the men in her life. Which is problematic; because Johanne has fallen in love with Ivar, a musician who works at her university canteen.

On the day she is due to fly to America with Ivar – a trip of which her mother disapproves – Johanne wakes to find that her bedroom door has been locked. Will she find a way out – or, indeed, choose not to? The intense and challenging denouement will ensure you finish the novel in one sitting.

Whatever you feel about living at home, take note of the relationship between Johanne and her mother. Make sure that neither generation is subconsciously trying to control the actions of the other. And after you've read it, leave the novel on the kitchen table.