The Other Woman
“Bohman’s prose is the literary equivalent of an undertow.”
“The Other Woman” is a tale told endlessly in fiction—a younger woman falls for an older married man, and the two have an affair. It’s beyond clichéd, which is why the trick performed here by Swedish writer Therese Bohman is a revelation. Somehow, she takes a simple, worn out plotline and makes it a mesmerizing page-turner.
Of course, this is not easy. It takes pure talent. Bohman is able to create a compelling novel by dragging the reader into the soul of her main character, a young woman who is unnamed.
The main character has the lowliest of jobs—she works in a hospital cafeteria cleaning the slop that people leave on their plates. She is a townie in this Godforsaken, depressing Swedish town that seems to have nearly nothing going for it. But it does have Carl Malmberg, a married doctor with a lust for this cafeteria worker’s body.
What’s the attraction? Here, in her own words, is the character’s early reason:
“it is completely different from the way things have been with guys my own age. There is nothing of their impatience, the sense that they feel as if they have gained access to something that will soon be taken away from them, so they have to be as quick as possible, exploit it to the max. They are bulimics, I think, binge lovers, with their own pleasure uppermost in their minds.”
Clearly, the writing here (as well as the translation) are top notch. This young woman of course soon falls deeply in love with Dr. Malmberg and dreams of replacing his wife. All of this is well-trod ground but, even to this point, the writing and psychological depiction of the main character pulls the reader inside. Bohman’s prose is the literary equivalent of an undertow.
It is just when the plot starts to seem too familiar that Bohman introduces a surprise that will speed the story to its shocking conclusion for both this unnamed young woman and the reader.
On the surface, this novel is about lust but it is so much more. Truly, it’s more about the human need for connection, to not feel so alone in one’s skin, and it rings so true and raw that ultimately the novel is almost upsetting. But to skip it would be a mistake—we’re learning not only about the unnamed young woman at the center but about the human condition.