THE POLYGLOT LOVERS BY LINA WOLFF, TRANSLATED BY SASKI VOGEL
The Polyglot Lovers is a manuscript written by Max Lamas, a lauded middle-aged author, whose ego Lina Wolff deconstructs in her sharp and satirical second novel of the same name.
Wolff’s meta-tale begins with Ellinor, who is traveling to Stockholm for a literary critic she met online, a man named Ruben. Ellinor finds Ruben repulsive; nevertheless, she carries on with their date: a night that ends in violence. In an act of revenge, Ellinor calmly waits until Ruben falls asleep before destroying his most prized possession—Max Lamas’s sole manuscript. Cut to part two: Max’s perspective. He dreams of a particular woman, he tells us, “A very young polyglot lover with enormous, white, milk-scented breasts.” His sentiments are familiar, cliché even, but Wolff pushes his language ever so slightly toward the absurd, incorporating numerous descriptions of female bodies and moments of existential dread (“the tristesse, oh the tristesse!”). In the third and final section, Wolff gives voice to Lucrezia, whose grandmother, an Italian marchesa, is the main subject of Max’s manuscript. Wolff’s tonal shifts between sections are handled deftly by Saskia Vogel, the translator responsible for bringing this novel into English.
The French author Michel Houellebecq also appears in many forms in Wolff’s novel: in references, on Ruben’s secret bookshelf, as an epigraph to Max’s section. But Wolff’s The Polyglot Lovers is not about Houellebecq, per se—it is about the recurring figure of Houellebecq in the literary world. Readers will inevitably conjure their own equivalent to him, and to Max Lamas, and Wolff encourages us to do so, for her novel raises the following questions: how do we define literary genius, and who do we allow to define it for us?
—Review by Anna Vilner