The Guardian | Rachel Cooke | January 3, 2022
Walk Me to the Corner reviewed in The Guardian
Elise, a fiftysomething writer, has work that she enjoys, a husband of 23 years with whom she is “uncommonly happy”, and two grownup sons. If her life is uneventful, it’s also replete; she is content and (this is the more important thing) grateful for such contentment. But then, as if a heavy stone had been hurled into a tranquil pool, it happens. At a party, she meets Dagmar, and something inside her shifts. Back at home, she considers her body in the bathroom mirror and thinks vaguely of what it might be like to sleep with this woman – or anyone! – at this point in her life. It is unthinkable and yet, it’s about to happen. She and Dagmar start sending each other text messages. Quite soon after this, they go to bed with each other, and it is wonderful.
Elise doesn’t lie to her husband. She tells him that she doesn’t want to leave him, but that she cannot stop herself from seeing Dagmar, and he makes his decision: they separate, and he begins a new relationship. But freedom doesn’t make life any easier for Elise, and not only because she misses Henrik so badly. Dagmar has a wife and two children, and she will not leave them for Elise – though neither will she break off with her. Live in the moment, she tells her lover; be happy with what we’ve got. But what have they got? Conversations conducted on cold park benches. Snatched weekends that are over almost before they’ve begun. An endless, lonely present. Which would be worse, Elise asks herself: a life without Dagmar, or this half-life of longing and WhatsApp? Is a little bit of Dagmar, however small, really better than nothing at all? And if it is, what does this say about the rest of their lives?
I adored Anneli Furmark’s last book, Red Winter, about love among radical leftists in northern Sweden, but I feel even more strongly about Walk Me to the Corner (translated by Hanna Strömberg). However painful to read, it captures so brilliantly both the unexpectedness of sudden desire in middle age – as Elise tells her son, she hadn’t realised that fiftysomething love would feel exactly the same as twentysomething love; that it would come with all the same ridiculous and paralysing uncertainties – and the utter misery that comes with falling for someone whose deeds simply do not match their words. Does Dagmar love Elise? She says she does. But will she give up anything for her at all? No, she will not.
Furmark’s richly coloured drawings are sketchy, rough around the edges. But they’re wonderfully effective: I love the way she makes women’s bodies and faces look so seductively solid and generous; somehow, she imbues even everyday objects – a quilt, a coffee cup, a freshly laundered vest – with an incredible tenderness, as if these things, too, had feelings. Given the complexity of what she’s aiming to capture – all the agonising repetition of a lop-sided affair – her narration is amazingly concise, in part because she’s so very deft at incorporating the tiny screens of mobile phones into her story. How swiftly yearning reduces a lover’s world to the length and breadth of their malevolent/ecstatic glow. With what astonishing speed a heart comes to depend on a brief text message.