Natalia cannot stop thinking about sex.
With this mesmerizing tale of one woman’s potent affliction, award-winning Finnish writer Laura Lindstedt makes her American debut. Narrated by an unnamed, ungendered therapist who leaps at the chance to employ their most experimental methods, My Friend Natalia offers a gripping examination of the power dynamics always present but rarely ever spoken about in therapy. “Something flared within me,” the therapist notes, “and it wasn’t merely sympathy, the emotion I feel for most of my clients. It was more like a sudden experience of harmony, wholly inappropriate given the circumstances.”
It is clear from the moment Natalia barges into her new therapist’s office that she has motives beyond simply fixing her sex life. She is quick to mention that the same exact painting hanging on the therapist’s wall—an abstract piece titled Ear-Mouth—once hung in her grandmother’s living room. This comment deeply unsettles the therapist, as does the large alarm clock that Natalia brings with her, intent on timing the sessions herself. And the tape recorder.
At first, Natalia seems to play along with the rules of therapy. She partakes in the therapist’s pain-displacement exercises, word games, and even produces a few anatomical illustrations. She muses on the art of pornography, and boldly examines seminal figures like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, about whom she poses the question, “Did Jean-Paul consider Simone a woman at all? Or was she nothing but a pencil sharpener?” By combining philosophy and literature, repressed childhood memories and explicitly unrepressed erotic experiences, the sessions quickly shed all inhibitions. Still, the therapist can’t help but wonder: What does Natalia really want?
Brilliantly translated by the award-winning David Hackston, My Friend Natalia buzzes in prose charged with sharp banter and double entendres as the therapist hurls strange—and hilarious—experimental exercises at Natalia, and their work builds to an explosive climax. In taking a deconstructive yet utterly scintillating approach to the self-help narratives of our time, Laura Lindstedt emerges as a rare and unflinching international literary talent.