Jenny Hval, the Norwegian musician and author’s second novel to be translated into English, is a Gothic, genre-bending tale of a young girl attempting to escape Southern Norway’s Bible Belt and shake off Christian conservatism.
Jenny Hval is already a critically renowned singer-songwriter whose gothic alt-pop often delves into heady, intimate subjects. As a novelist she makes no exceptions in her dedication to the uncomfortable. Her 2018 debut novel Paradise Rot was a successful lyrical fusion of decay, politics and hypersexuality.
Girls Against God – an indirect translation of Å hate Gud – is a surreal journey through time and subversion of reality. It is about witchcraft, black metal and, most importantly, hate. Hval’s nameless narrator hates feverishly and most prevalent is her hatred of God and the rejection of the small-town life she has fled.
The narrator becomes fixated on her path of self-discovery, driven by rage and distaste for her surroundings. She ultimately ends up in Oslo, where she finds community in a girl band. Her obsession with the Witch trials of the Middle Ages leads to the exploration of her and her bandmates’ own abilities.
It is often unclear whether events and conversations are abstract or genuinely occurring in linear time and the novel is increasingly confusing as reality dissolves into dark surrealism. This seems to be intentional on Hval’s part, as the band of women have fully surrendered themselves to their craft and are equally as dazed as the reader at times.
Hval has taken the teenage girl angst trope and subverted it into something deeply nihilistic and haunting – it is not a comfortable read, nor is it dull.
“Magic is far away, because it’s a place where God cannot see you”, muses the narrator early on in the novel. Perhaps this accounts for why our subject has lost herself in the pursuit of witchcraft and of bonds formed through hatred. She is so desperate to disassociate from the life she has left behind in Southern Norway, that she has to plunge herself into the depths of the dark arts – because it is so far removed from Christianity and God. It is an age-old torment that many people of varied religious upbringings can understand.
Girls Against God is a dizzying descent into depravity, political witchcraft and a dark exploration of the self. It is shocking and at times, confusing. Perhaps to truly experience the novel authentically it needs to be read in its original language, especially as there is a consistent focus on Norwegian letters.
Despite this loss of context it is still an excellent, bewitching read. Jenny Hval’s musical ability makes her a natural novelist – her writing often feeling like a blend of lyrics and essays. Girls Against God is a terrifying, striking fusion of the occult and female repression. It feels like a tale that has many layers to bury yourself into, and it makes for an ideal read this Autumn.
Words by Laura Mehers
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