Suzanne Brogger. translated by Anne Born
The Overlook Press
The Jade Cat, by Suzanne Brøgger, is a family saga that focuses on members of the Løvin family of Denmark. While the family chronicles go a bit further back, the story essentially begins with Tobias and Katze Løvin and moves onto their children Li, Balder and Bekka. From there, the story moves through Li onto her children, Zeste, Myren, Orm and Tor. The breakdown of the book involves two sections that take up all but 28 pages of the novel–the sections of Katze and Myren. The book is wrapped up by Orm and a distant family member, another Tobias.
The division of the book into sections was a bit problematic, at least when it came to Myren. The focus of her section seemed to be more her mother Li and her three siblings, whereas Myren was hardly mentioned. It would have made more sense to me to have named that portion of the book after Li instead. Even so, it was a minor problem.
My favorite section by far was the first one, Katze’s. Brøgger did a truly phenomenal job and I believe that this section was so superb that it could have easily stood alone as a novella. Brogger’s prose are so rich and ornate–she is able to convey the family’s trials and tribulations in such a way that made me savor every word. Following is an excerpt from page 82 that really captured the tone and essence of the book in general:
Li was not the only attractive Løvin; the whole family was blessed with good looks. Jas saw Li for the first time at Gammel Mønt 14. He had never seen an apartment like that before, with its heavy silver, carpets, and paintings of naked gods and orinetal silk dragons. In the middle of the living room stood Katze, wearing a bright red dress with a diamond brooch, and red lipstick. She was 40. If he hadn’t been in love with the daughter, he would at once have fallenfor the mother, but he did not hold many cards with which to pique Katze’s interets. She could play the piano herself–any fool could. Jas had no serious education, and worst of all, no family name of interest.
The Jade Cat is heavily mired in stories of love and lust. It involves a lot of passion and sexuality, which often seems fleeting. Many times the characters seemed to be moved completely by their passions, letting such desires dictate the circumstances in their lives. Li seemed especially prone to heeding her desires despite the consequences, loving only when it suited her and withdrawing her love when she felt the need to move on. Brøgger declined to pass judgments on her characters though, at least in her writing. Regardless of the decisions made by each character, whether good or bad, I simply absorbed their stories as opposed to placing myself in the story by agreeing or disagreeing with any particular characters actions. It was a phenomenon that I can’t remember experiencing recently–usually, as a reader, I expect characters to affect me, but in this case I was happy enough to just read their stories without forming a strong attachment.
It just all seemed so sumptuous to me. Many times an author’s meaning or language can be lost in translation, but in the case of The Jade Cat, I can’t imagine that anything was lost in translation. If you’re looking for a fast paced plot, this is not the book for you. However, for those that are looking for a book to envelope you and affect you, I would highly recommend The Jade Cat. It is a great book to digest slowly and mull over.