Let’s Hope for the Best
One day while nursing her young son, Carolina receives an email out of the blue from her boyfriend Aksel, detailing computer passwords and other practicalities in the event of his death. She grows worried at first, then irritated – this is so typical of her unsentimental life partner. Aksel ends the message: Let’s hope for the best! Five months later, he is dead.
In two interweaving narrative threads, debut writer Carolina Setterwall tells the story of falling in love with the complicated and irresistible Aksel, and the excruciating months after finding him dead in bed one morning. Carolina is thirty years old, single, and yearning for stability when she meets Aksel at a party. A passionate first encounter leads to months of courtship where she struggles to find her place. They fall in love, but Aksel is a man of few words, he needs to ease into situations and take things slow. Carolina pushes forward like a steamroller, restless to advance to the next level of their relationship – be it going on vacation, moving in together, buying a cat, or having a child. There’s something off about their pace, she notes early on. Through Carolina’s voice we experience the infinitely relatable longing, pain, and triumph of hobbling together a relationship and a life in the throes of high-speed urban life.
Interspliced with the intoxicating musings of falling in love are the dark months after Aksel’s sudden death, when Carolina finds herself as a thirty-six year-old widow and single mother who must put the pieces of herself and her life back together again. Even though Aksel died of natural causes, Carolina is convinced that she killed him by constantly pushing him beyond his comfort zone. Guilt coils like a black snake through Carolina’s story of waking up to a nightmare for which she was wholly unprepared. When a new love rushes into her life like a tidal wave, Carolina finds herself assuming the reticent role Aksel once held. The tables have turned. Can she love again, and at what cost?
Let’s Hope for the Best is a gut-wrenching story of overcoming grief and a bubbling love chronicle of our modern age. Writing in a direct and disarming style, Carolina Setterwall tells a nuanced tale about the many faces of grief, and about how even our closest relationships can be anything but simple. The use of the present tense throughout creates an immediacy that draws the reader into the turbulent emotional world of our heroine in a startling – and addictive – way. The reader knows what Carolina doesn’t: that her blossoming love story will end in tragedy. The pain of one storyline informs the exuberance of the other, creating a symphony of grief and desire that is rare in its honesty.
Told in double narratives that count down to one volcanic moment, Let’s Hope for the Best is at once a striking feat of autofiction and a stylistic tour de force.
“An electrifying read. A book that forces itself upon you, impossible to resist and difficult to pause. Carolina Setterwall, a previous blogger, is a skilful writer who knows how to keep the reader’s attention. Direct, effective, skilled […] While time flows through the text in two parallell courses of events, up until and after the fatal moment, the readers are imprisoned in the writer’s consciousness. Beyond it, there is nothing. Only a you and a me exists, which is used throughout the entire novel. […] In the novel Carolina claims that she’s good at throwing out and clearing away. You can feel it. Away with everything that doesn’t drive the story forward. As a documentation of a time, a place, a fate, Let’s hope for the Best is a memory capsule to preserve. And, what’s more, a perfect summer beach read.”
Maria Schottenius, Dagens Nyheter
”Let’s Hope for the Best is not a book that follows a well-known formula, where every trauma is followed by neatly presented therapeutic break-throughs. For better or worse, Setterwall’s story of grief is less balanced – and rings more true. (…) It fumbles in the dark, startlingly, and offers such an array of emotions that it causes vertigo. In the face of death – but also of life.”
Elin Ruuth, Norrbottens-Kuriren
”It is painful to read. What differentiates this book from so many other depictions of grief is that it does not shy away from complexity. It is difficult to live without someone, but it is also difficult to live with someone. (…) Her story is an ice-cold reminder that life, as we know it, can change in a heartbeat, and that everything we hold dear can be taken from us. Haunted by the curse of guilt, she realizes that grief has its own pace and that, because of it, she has become someone else.”
Oline Stig, Sydsvenskan
”When I finish the book, only this remains: Thank you.”
Let’s Hope for the Best isn’t exactly the kind of grief book that holds things in. Setterwall is honest through and through, and avoids glorifying the deceased.
“Carolina Setterwall is admirable in her honesty.”
Ingalill Mosander, Go’kväll (SE)
”A nuanced tale of the many faces of grief, and about a relationship that was not always easy. Carolina has the courage to write also about the ugliness that she is ashamed of.”
“Against the backdrop of a privileged and seemingly secure middle class life in the big city, the impossible happens. A woman wakes up one morning, but her husband doesn’t. He is dead. Now here she sits with a baby on her arm, not knowing what to make of life. The reader is invited to take part in a grieving process in two separate timelines, on the one hand a self-examining search for how they lived their lives, on the other hand a tale about how she gets through the period after his passing. The protagonist doesn’t spare herself for a moment. As the laconic comments and self-ironic musings spread across the pages she grows and becomes real and urgent. In Let’s Hope for the Best Carolina Setterwall has had the courage to portray vanity, guilt, and self-pity in exact words. It’s time for me to examine myself and the attitude I have towards those closest to me. What seems obvious now will be gone one day.”
”A rich, honest, and poignant portrayal of the many dimensions of grief.”
”Let’s Hope for the Best is a heart-breaking debut that is easy to read and difficult to resist. An autobiographical grief novel in which Carolina Setterwall, with intense presence, tells the story of her life before and after Aksel. How do you survive as a new mother with an eight month-old baby when your loved one suddenly dies? Setterwall writes with nuance. She is raw, unadorned and honest, never swerving into the cloying or sentimental.”
“She always resides in the present tense, even though that present shifts violently under a short period of time. The authenticity is rare in strength, and is created with a simple, functional, and efficient style.”
“I like this book because, despite the tragic subject matter, it never resorts to painting pretty pictures. Instead it shows, with carefully calibrated austerity, how regular people – not angels – continue to struggle. They’re stuck in the well worn patterns of youth, the welfare state, and women’s liberation.”