Fine Gråbøl presents What Kingdom, in conversation with Joanna Biggs

 
Thursday
May 9th
7:00pm
 
McNally Jackson Seaport
RSVP Required — see below
 

An incandescent debut about young adults learning how to care for themselves — from within the limits of the psychiatric system.

"An incredibly moving and gripping novel . . . so sure-footed, clear, vibrating, like chiffon or a cigarette." —Olga Ravn, author of The Employees and My Work

In honest, crackling investigations of the psychiatric system and the young people trying to find their way, Gråbøl’s soaring debut offers a critique of institutionalization and an urgent recalibrating of the language and conceptions of care.

“I’m not inarticulate, but I leave language to the room around me,” says Fine Gråbøl’s nameless narrator as she dreams of furniture flickering to life in the room she occupies at a temporary psychiatric care unit for young adults. A chair that greets you, or shiny tiles of floor that follow a peculiar grammar of their own. Our narrator is obsessed with the way items rise up out of their thingness, assuming personalities and private motives. She also cannot sleep, and practices her daily routines with the urgency of survival – peeling a carrot, drinking prune juice – all an acutely calibrated exploration into having a home.

Structured as a series of intimate vignettes like those of Olga Ravn, What Kingdom thrums with the swirling voices of this shared home. Hector blares Michael Jackson from the recreation room and recalls a past in Peru when his psychoses were treated with exorcism. The town would shake the devil out of his small, teenage body before he was relocated to Denmark. Or Marie, who has lived in the temporary unit since she was eighteen, has no idea that her mother lives just four floors below in a permanent care unit.

Echoing the aching writings of Janet Frame on electroconvulsive therapy, or Linda Boström Knausgård’s mythical meditations on silence and mental health, Fine Gråbøl renders a delicate and deep uncoupling from the world.

"Rendered through recursion and fragmentation, the wholeness of What Kingdom is revealed like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are kept in a shoebox and turns out to have no edges. Somehow both warm and cool, Fine Gråbøl’s keenly observant prose suggests the affinities between phantasm, phenomena and what lies between. Bureaucracy and self-inflicted burns—the banal and the brutal—are reported with the same attenuated precision. Only an unreliable narrator could be trusted with this story. This book has gotten inside me, a guide for unexplored rooms and corridors." —Anne de Marcken, author of It Lasts Forever and Then It's Over

"I was riveted by the attention to detail – it demands our attention, in return; the objective way the narrator perceives the confined world she lives in, without a trace of self-pity, compels us to know she is speaking the truth. There is an urgent need for the system to be changed, for an individual to be listened to, not just dealt with. This book makes us listen.” –Celia Paul, author of Self-Portrait and Letters to Gwen John


What Kingdom is Danish writer Fine Gråbøl’s (b. 1992) debut novel. She has previously published Bone-marrow Lavender, together with the poetry collective Blod, Måne, Søndag. What Kingdom is inspired by Gråbøl’s own experiences with psychiatric care. It won Denmark’s most prestigious award for debut fiction, Bogforum’s Debutantpris.

 

 

 

Joanna Biggs is a writer, a senior editor at Harper’s Magazine, and the author of A Life of One’s Own: Nine Women Writers Begin Again, which was a finalist for the National Award for Arts Writing. Biggs has written for the London Review of Books, where she worked for fifteen years, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, Harper’s, the Nation, the New Republic, Bookforum, Granta, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Observer and the Sunday Times. Biggs was a recipient of a grant from the Robert B. Silvers Foundation in 2020, and part of the inaugural cohort at the Willa Cather Writers’ Residency in Red Cloud, Nebraska in 2023. Biggs's first book, All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work, came out in 2015 with Serpent’s Tail. In 2017, Biggs co-founded Silver Press to publish feminist writers, including Audre Lorde, Leonora Carrington, Nell Dunn, Chantal Akerman and M. NourbeSe Philip.

 

 

 

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