John and Mary have two young children and a tepid marriage. Now Mary has made up her mind: she wants a divorce. Feeling strangled by the demands of family life, she longs for the chance to live as she wishes without having to conform to the needs of others. John, the one who has been trying to make things work through counseling and scheduled sex, acquiesces. But he makes one thing clear: the divorce is Mary’s thing, not his.
She will have to handle the details – but he is keeping the house.
From that moment on, nothing goes as Mary had planned. She is hopelessly impractical and had not understood the financial implications of a split before going through with it. Her initial dream of expansive freedom shrinks into evenings alone in a small one-bedroom flat. And despite Mary’s efforts to lure the children to her new place, they choose to spend most of their time at the house with their father.
John, who has always been the primary breadwinner, now increasingly – and at times indignantly – shoulders the role of primary caregiver to their children, but he is also insensitive to Mary’s financial limitations and lack of work flexibility. When John is swept up in a new relationship, Mary finds herself trapped in a lonely spiral where she hinges her emotional life on the children she sees less and less. As the months turn into years, Mary realizes that by breaking up her marriage she is losing her children.
Opt Out is an unsentimental and addictive depiction of the dissolution of a marriage – and the ensuing fallout. What emotional baggage do we bring into a marriage and how does our history determine our future? What are the powers of guilt that come into play when a parent breaks up a family – and can you ever fully leave someone with whom you have children? Told through the alternating perspectives of Mary and John, the novel lays bare the devastating effects of diverging expectations and outlooks on a relationship.
Carolina Setterwall is a skilled chronicler of anxiety and complex family dynamics, and she sets her stage with merciless directness. Mary and John are deeply flawed and profoundly relatable characters and as readers we both scold and cheer them on until the very last, breathless page. Opt Out is a blistering look at the limitations of marriage and the gender roles within it – as well as searing examination of the view of the good mother.
“Carolina Setterwall doesn’t shy away from darkness. Opt Out is a daring book, brave not least because it has the courage to point out the consequences of a divorce for the woman.”
– Expressen (SE)
“The style is as close to real life as it gets, as is the dialogue and the descriptions of place. (…) Surely one must become a worse person in several ways over the course of a difficult divorce; meaner, vindictive, and hurt. All of this is thoroughly mapped out by Setterwall.”
– NSD (SE)
“I’m impressed by Carolina Setterwall’s portrayal of Mary and John, but what impresses me even more is her completely stylistically pure prose. Carolina Setterwall does’t move a centimeter away from the dry and factual, and leaves it up to the reader to fill in the emotions. It is incredibly skillfully and competently written.”
– Barometern (SE)
“The drama takes place at a sort of quiet, quotidian level, with events that could happen to anyone, at any time. Mary and John both appear passive and paralyzed in the face of what is happening in their lives, which I read with rising fascination. (…) I immensely enjoy Carolina Setterwall’s way of depicting this, possibly ostensible, lack of presence, but also her way of portraying a lack of communication and the things that go unsaid.”
– Smålandsposten (SE)
“Carolina has it in her; she sees people.”
– Svenska Dagbladet (SE)
“In the newly published divorce narrative Opt Out, the gaze is as relentlessly direct, heart-rending, and searching as in the debut. (…) As an observant guide through the human psyche and relationships Setterwall is astonishing.”
– Västerbottenskuriren (SE)
“Carolina Setterwall’s writing is skillfully timeless.”
– Västerviks-Tidningen (SE)
“This is equal parts a story about being and daring. A story that shatters me and makes me whole again.”
– Carolines Bokhylla (Blog)