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Elin Cullhed (1983) is a Swedish author who made her debut in 2016 with the critically lauded YA-novel The Gods (Gudarna). Euphoria, an incandescent fictionalization of Sylvia Plath’s last year alive, is her first novel for adults and, upon its publication in March 2021, it became one of the most critically acclaimed novels of the year. Euphoria went on to win the 2021 August Prize, Sweden’s most prestigious literary award.

Cullhed became obsessed with the life and work of Sylvia Plath when she found herself in a position similar to Sylvia’s: mother to several young children, wife to another writer, struggling to find space and time for her own work.

Euphoria is set to be published in twenty-four languages.

elin cullhed 3712

Reviews

Euphoria is a masterpiece.”
Västerbottens-Kuriren (SE)

“There is really only one good reason to write a fictional autobiography, and that is that the book is so well done that the reader is convinced that it does justice to the real person who once lived the life depicted therein. Elin Cullhed needs to write a book that, on a literary level, is comparable with Sylvia Plath’s own great novel, one of the most important psychological novels of the 20th century: The Bell Jar. In my opinion, Elin Cullhed succeeds in doing this. Euphoria is a monumental literary achievement.”
Smålandsposten (SE)

“The book has a lingual awareness and integrity that skillfully avoids any amateur psychologizing (…) Sylvia Plath is depicted as realistic and complex: annoying, charming, brilliant, superficial, deep. And with an unmistakable talent for euphoria – enigmatically, until the very end. Cullhed positions herself close to Plath’s language as it appears in letters, journals, and poems without veering into pastiche. It feels more like an honest attempt at a linguistic portrait, rather than a depiction of what is said to have happened. And that is, of course, worthy of respect.”
Sveriges Radio, Kulturnytt i P1 (SE)

“With her intense prose full of nerve, Cullhed creates a nuanced depiction of the difficulty of holding on to one’s self and one’s vision in life’s maelstrom of complicated love, parenthood, and quotidian challenges. (…) The Sylvia of the novel gains a life of her own, she breaths new air and takes steps that do not feel predetermined. ’Life drowns you with its ability to be lived!’ she exclaims triumphantly and by then I have fully capitulated to a novel that is absolutely electric and that allows the desire to live to triumph despite it all.”
Landskrona Posten (SE)

“With sparkling imagery, big emotions, and an intense prose, Cullhed writes a semi-manic depiction of women and men’s artistic creation. As true as it is devastating.”
Dagens Nyheter (SE)

Euphoria is painful reading but – in the midst of all the misery – it also becomes magnificent. The novel raises the constant female problem: being torn between the self and being a mother.”
Dala-Demokraten (SE)

“Cullhed is transparent with this being a ‘literary fantasy’ and if you go along with it, the book is irresistible. […] Cullhed makes Plath come alive unbelievably well. She extracts the discrepancy between Plath’s inner self – in the writing she is raw, free and honest – and the facade she shows to the world. The book offers a fictionalized Sylvia’s view of the world and it’s a wonderful world to step into.”
Norrbottens Kuriren (SE)

“Wow, how Elin Cullhed uses her material! She is precisely as respectful and brutal as one must be when one writes freely about someone else’s life. She writes a character who becomes entirely her own; the real Sylvia Plath’s life is only a scaffolding that she climbs in order to erect her own, personal architecture. Euphoria is a novel about motherhood, marriage, and being a writer. It is a raw story told from the inside of a mother, wife and poet’s mind and heart. It is painful and merciless, completely free of glorification. […] The narratives are worn. Both Plath and Hughes own stories, their shared story and the larger story about being a hungry mother and wife on the hunt for a room of one’s own. And yet, Cullhed manages to imbue new, fresh life into it and I think it is because she so consistently tells the story from within Sylvia; the reader is allowed to follow every thought and feeling that races through her body. In this way, Euphoria – even though it is stylistically markedly different – is reminiscent of Vigdis Hjorth who has made introspection her signature. Also Cullhed can make the incantatory first appear repetitive only to then blaze with full force. When every little detail is permitted to expand, Cullhed’s Sylvia grows into an entire world.[…] Euphoria is no moral, educational tale. The writer’s Sylvia Plath is a lovable but also capricious and maddeningly provoking person. She is not someone you cheer on without reservation, but Elin Cullhed makes sure that you want to walk by her side – through everything.”
Svenska Dagbladet (SE)

“In this novel, it is not the depressed and suicidal Sylvia Plath that we meet. Rather, it is the ambivalent, exuberant, electric person that struggled to coexist as both a mother and a poetic genius. Cullhed portrays with great perception and great tenderness the ongoing, violent crash between motherhood and being an ideal wife on one hand, and poetry and beauty on the other. […] I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Elin Cullhed was and is obsessed with Sylvia Plath. But do you, as a reader, need to already be a devoted Sylvia Plath-fan in order to enjoy Cullhed’s novel? Do you even need to have read a single word of her writing or know who she is? I don’t think so. Cullhed writes about being a mother and being an artist, about pregnancy, joy and depression, about children, annoying mothers, idiotic men, jealousy, romantic love, self-doubt and hubris. In short: big, human subjects. […] Something I will carry with me from my reading of Euphoria is how Cullhed depicts the psychological tug-of-war between depression and joy, self-annihilation and arrogance. One does not preclude the other; on the contrary, they can very well amplify each other. Suicidal people writing about dark subjects can often fall into cliché. It is therefore brilliant how Cullhed chooses to accentuate the joy, ecstasy, and humor of Sylvia Plath and how she allows her subject to claim that she wants to write joyous and happy texts. […] Euphoria is, quite simply, an excellent novel that shows that literature can conquer death.”
Aftonbladet (SE)

Euphoria is a literary exploit of the highest calibre and does justice to the utterly complex personality that was Sylvia Plath. For those who have read The Bell Jar and Sylvia’s poetry, it’s clear how well-grounded Elin Cullhed is in her protagonist’s way of thinking and feeling. Like with the real Sylvia, Elin Cullhed’s fictional character has a sharp, rational and critical intellect, which seamlessly unites with her emotional life – an unfathomable vulnerability which constantly sways between the realistic and the imaginary, between hope and despair, between trust and betrayal.”
Alba (SE)

“In this literary reimagining of an icon, Elin Cullhed dives straight into the story of Sylvia Plath, from inside her own mind. Cullhed makes Plath contemporary, without it feeling forced; perhaps she makes her into an authorial sister.”
SVT Kultur (SE)

“Throughout the years, there has been a great deal of speculation as to what made Sylvia Plath want to die. Elin Cullhed does something else entirely. She writes a person of flesh and blood out of the wreckage of myth and biographical fact, out of posthumous texts and the whispers and well-founded interpretations of Sylvia Plath’s surroundings. […] It could have been both forced and a little distasteful, to try to recreate the frame of mind of the condemned poet, to try to crawl under the skin one of the late twentieth century’s mist iconic writers. But Elin Cullhed succeeds in balancing on that knife’s edge; she makes her fictional reimagining of Sylvia Plath’s last year both chilling and intelligent. She writes forth the vibrating emotion while at the same time gazing at the elegy over a life with hawk-eyed reserve. […] I fall headfirst into a novel with so many words, so unfathomably many feelings. About love and art, women and men, about how and why we want to live. […] Euphoria is a dreamy mix of Sylvia Plath and Elin Cullhed. Their voices come together and break apart in a furiously beautiful stylistic triumph. The work itself is a piece of burning escapism for us readers to lose ourselves in. The gaze on the world has something Virginia Woolf:ish about it: the philosophyzing, creating distance to others. The physical descriptions are reminiscent of Moa Martinsson’s portraits of women and the direct tone has shades of Sonja Åkesson’s gallows humor and sharpness. This is a loving and contradiction-filled reimagining of a woman’s life, work and longing. […] Euphoria by Elin Cullhed is a literary masterpiece that will, at the very least, be nominated for the August Prize.”
Arbetarbladet (SE)

“Elin Cullhed finds a language that undulates between the poetic and the crassly material, that paints beautiful images and then crushes them against the linoleum floor. She imbues the mythical ‘Sylvia Plath’ with a life that is grand, pitiful and relatable, tragic and drastic with a touch of wry humor. The book ends before the end, in the middle of the manic joy, the forced hope in the future, which doesn’t make it any less painful. Quite the opposite.”
ETC (SE)

“Even if you don’t know anything at all about Plath and her fate, Euphoria is a novel that moves you. Its about everyday matters such as failure, love, betrayal, cooking, motherhood and pregnancy. […] Euphoria is a reading experience beyond the ordinary. Elin Cullhed is a fabulous author and so well-grounded in the subject at hand that the text almost feels symbolic, with Plath’s pulse beating loud and clear. Her prose is playful, meandering and leaping, filled with rhetorical iterations and fancies, but with a steady rhythm to hold on to in the fast flowing text. In a poetic way she builds ambience, feelings and characters. The first person narration and the almost manic language with its stream of consciousness make Plath come alive.”
Skånska Dagbladet (SE)

“In this compact and stunning novel Cullhed captures both Plaths confession-like prose, her naivistic, many times ecstatic darkness, that doesn’t fear the trivial or the pompous, and her will to obliterate pain by extinguishing herself, in both a empathic and dramatized manner. […] Its eerie how easily Cullhed slips into Plath’s mind, how well she pictures the dark clouds in her head, the days that don’t obey her, the body within the body, and the social circus that Plath feels she has to exhibit to the world so people won’t have to worry. […] When a women perishes it’s often as a consequence of there being no other woman there to catch her. How lucky, then, that we have authors like Cullhed who are not content with depicting the high and lows of female ruination, but rather know how to catch a lost soul, how to extend a hand; for in the literature, it’s never too late.”
Göteborgs-Posten (SE)

“It’s liberating that Cullhed does not interpret Plath’s life through its end: the suicide. Instead, she depicts the poets neurotically vibrant, intense joie-de-vivre and tireless attempts to combine family life with her writing. Do you need to have read Plath to read this novel? No. This is a wonderful portrait of a sensitive person’s struggle to make  life work.”
Vi Läser (SE)

“It may sound strange – but if you’re not familiar with the books of iconic writer Sylvia Plath, Euphoria is a good place to start. (…) It is life in a lonely British idyll, where motherhood feels like a prison you don’t want to be without – and the iconic narrative is simultaneously a fantastical journey into a complicated, fragile, avaricious person; an artist who has been robbed of her art. Truly one of the most profound reading experiences of this spring.”
Femina (DK)

Euphoria is a glowing work of art that gives a collective voice to all women around the world who live with one foot in domestic life and the other in an artistic lifestyle. Elin Cullhed won’t settle for just depicting a women in suffering, she reaches out for that lost soul and holds out her hand to it – because in literature, it’s never too late.”
Spettacol News (IT)

Euphoria, by Swedish author Elin Cullhed, narrates the last year of Plath’s life, an important stage in the lives of the Hughes couple. The new house, a second child on the way, a novel to be published for the young Sylvia. Cullhed has written a brilliant work of unusual power. Perhaps a true literary achievement. The narrator’s voice is a perfect blend of the author and Plath, and it is surprising how it is always natural, never forced. The novel represents a unique process of identification in which the writer has made her own the torments, the grievances, the fears, the desires for self-destruction of a woman so madly in love with her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, that she becomes meat for the slaughter. In a marriage always poised between paradise and the gallows, in the growing anguish of a woman who wanted to be constantly desired, the power of the male grows out of all proportion. She so beautiful, talented and fascinating; he so obscure, elusive, perhaps not exactly enthusiastic about the literary qualities of his wife. Qualities that attract him and drive him mad. The life of a woman writer next to a man who writes is difficult. And how painful, for Sylvia, the pretense of believing in reciprocal generosity. The loneliness made sense to her only next to him. She was so careless and lost that far from Ted she felt nothing but ”a despicable piece of humanity”. She tries to merge with him, to become one. She would like to imitate him, even though she says: ”The more I imitate him, the more he doesn’t love me”. She tries to be an invisible scholar, and so she bakes bread at home, bakes pies, takes care of the children, but always with a watchful eye on the fugitive man who, immediately after her second childbirth, goes fishing. She, a pachyderm deformed by pregnancy, trying to fit into clothes that no longer fit, obsessed by every female gaze that crosses Ted’s eyes.Cullhed is perfect in this heartbreaking, magnificent tale of a motherhood that does not save and of a creativity that devours its host from the inside, like a voodoo doll.”
La Lettura (IT)

“It is easy, reading Euphoria in one sitting, to give in to the illusion that it is really the poetess who is writing about herself. The result is for the reader a total immersion in the conflicting and burning world of Sylvia, a plunge into the depths of her tormented soul. Cullhed, who won Sweden’s most prestigious literary prize, the August 2021 Prize with this first novel for adults, is a master at bringing out the conflicting feelings that clamp the author of The Bell Jar, imprisoned in a grip that will be fatal between her love for her husband and children and the sense of suffocation and renunciation that domestic life induces. […] Plath’s entire life, with its sad epilogue that still resonates so powerfully in the contemporary imagination, is something that both repels and attracts for the closeness it inspires, and that Cullhed fully captures through a language of disarming intimacy, bold and desperate, that the closer it gets to the abyss and death the more vivid and incisive it becomes.”

Euphoria is a cry of pain interspersed with moments of paradise, is a descent into the depths of depression and an ascent to the heights of artistic creation, is a slap in the face of respectability and the damage that can result from a rigid society that cages individuals in predetermined roles. Cullhed has been able to create for Plath a powerful and modern voice, which penetrates deeply into her personal experience and at the same time speaks about and to all women who are called upon every day to choose between their ambitions and dedication to their families.”

“And if we already know the end of the story, retracing its stages illuminates on the one hand the human side of a story that in the course of decades has become cloaked in legend, while on the other sheds light on aspects and difficulties that, in a less extreme way, can be shared by many women, to whom Cullhed with her Euphoria seems to want to extend the hand of literature, offering a bridge to new possibilities.”
Pulp (IT)

“Elin Cullhed’s work is incandescent and irresistible while also giving a collective voice to women all over the world who find themselves with one foot in a domestic life, and the other in artistic creation.”
Letteratitudine News (IT)

Euphoria has a mission – to tell women of the world, by imagining the last year of the poet’s life, about the hardship of motherhood and how married life can be for each and every one of us.”
Domani (IT)

Euphoria is not only Sylvia’s story, but it’s also about giving a voice to women who must combine a domestic and an artistic life.”
Prima Bergamo (IT)

“Falling in love, on the very first page. This novel about Sylvia Plath’s last year of life is all-consuming. Elin Cullhed’s pen is sharp, and better that idolatry.”
Romana Petri (IT)

“I never hype a book after reading only thirty pages. But with this… just read a few lines and you will understand why.”
Alessio Torino (IT)

“In Cullhed’s work, Plath herself leads the way. Euphoria is passionate first-person narrative about an artist gradually cracking and becoming more and more manic and obsessed.”
VG (NO)

“Culled gives Plath a modern voice. (…) Euphoria is largely a rhythmical, beautiful text that can lead us to new ways of reading Plath.”
Dagbladet (NO)

“Its not difficult to understand why Elin Cullhed’s novel Euphoria, a ‘literary fantasy’ about Sylvia Plath was awarded the prestigious August Award.”
Morgenbladet (NO)

“Cullhed writes with force about a woman, mother and artist, who is about to fall apart.”
Vårt Land (NO)

Books

Press Images

elin cullhed 3554 Photo by Sofia Runnarsdotter
elin cullhed 3642 Photo by Sofia Runnarsdotter
elin cullhed 3712 Photo by Sofia Runnarsdotter

Awards

2021 – Awarded the August Prize for Fiction for Euphoria

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