The Dolls by Ursula Scavenius, translated by Jennifer Russell.
Reviewed: Thursday March 19, 2024.

In the four stories that make up The Dolls, characters are plagued by unexplained illnesses and oblique, human-made disasters and environmental losses. A big sister descends into the family basement. Another sister refuses her younger brother. A third sister with memory loss is on the run and offered shelter by Notpla, a man both an ally and an enemy. A fourth set of siblings travel to Hungary with their late mother in a coffin.

My rating
Four stars.

My review
I picked up "The Dolls" after watch a video by Dakota Warren titled "strange books for strange people". It's a short story collection that is truly and unequivocally bizarre. The stories all take place in a strange world that is perhaps our own, in time periods that feel out of time. I found Scavenius to be a master of juggling reality with unreality, so that the final result is something slippery and difficult to grasp.

Most of all I feel these stories tackle the question of identity and somehow, sisterhood. Each story centers on a sister; in the first, a sister, in defience of the 'woman locked in the attic' trope, hides herself away in the cellar of her own volition. In the second, a sister offers shelter and betrayal in equal measure; in the third, a sister toes the line between safety and danger. In the fourth, a sister tries desperately to uphold the legacy of her mother. This sisterhood is not much commented on, but it is still front and center to each story simply by virtue of being an explicit identity.

Scavenius' stories do more than just defy trope and convention, however; they also forgo it altogether. It is difficult to keep your place in the stories, that's how nonsensical they are in a way that pays sincere homage to the very nature of personal identity.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was strange and weird and insightful, and I sincerely recommend it to anyone looking for a short but offputting read.

I'll tell the story, even if no one is listening: A shadow trailed after me the other day. It appeared in glimpses, one moment to my right, the next to my left. I kept on nervously turning around to look for it as I walked. Suddenly, it was gone. It must have been someone who lost their way, I thought.