Review: Girls Against God by Jenny Hval

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Synopsis

At once a time-travelling horror story and a fugue-like feminist manifesto, this is a singular, genre-warping new novel from the author of the acclaimed Paradise Rot

“It’s 1992 and I’m the Gloomiest Child Queen.”

Welcome to 1990s Norway. White picket fences run in neat rows and Christian conservatism runs deep. But as the Artist considers her past, her practice and her hatred, things start stirring themselves up around her. In a corner of Oslo, a coven of witches begins cooking up some curses. A time-travelling Edvard Munch arrives in town to join a black metal band, closely pursued by the teenaged subject of his painting Puberty, who has murder on her mind. Meanwhile, out deep in the forest, a group of school girls get very lost and things get very strange. Awful things happen in aspic.

Jenny Hval’s latest novel is a radical fusion of feminist theory and experimental horror, and a unique treatise on magic, gender and art. 

Review:

After the critical praise I heard about Jenny Hval’s first book, Paradise Rot, and after listening to her music (released on one of my favorite labels, Sacred Bones), I picked up Girls Against God knowing it will probably be strange, a little difficult, and a little all over the place. Girls Against God is part story, part essay, part manifesto on the struggle to find identity as a female in Norweigan society. From the first lines, Hval sets us up for a journey. Though it is difficult for readers to think that this is all fictional, that the narrator is not a mirror of Hval (considering it is so easy to do sometimes when the POV is first person), there are threads through this that bring about tones of witchcraft, body horror, and surreal science fiction. 

Throughout this novel, Hval keeps with a very solid theme, rebellion against power. The title itself alludes God being the ultimate power in Norwegian society, and the narrator is not going to accept that she is inferior. She tries to find things that are opposite of God to fight this power, from loving black metal and forming a band to going out into the woods to become a witch, these are negatives toward the whiteness of purity of the church and Norwegian consciousness. This was the reason for the uprising of black metal to begin with and the burning of churches in the early ,90s. Kids were against God. She is against light of any sort, even in the fact that she prefers movies to books because the end of the book is a white page, and the end of a movie is a black screen, the rebellion runs deep. The movies that she describes, “Insignificance,” “Deep Throat” “Sweet Movie”, all exist and they are all readily available. The focus on all of these, and with “Puberty” the painting by Munch that becomes a pretty major plot device, is the female discovering that the bonds that are holding them down in society are best thrown down, and girls need to rise up against God (or the power that God represents) and become the powerful ones. 

I had a hard time keeping my focus through reading this novel. There is so much moving around in the plot and descriptions that it is difficult to keep the threads straight sometimes. This is exactly what I expect of Jenny Hval and her writing because it makes sense to the way that her mind must work. It is a difficult book, but it has some interesting ideas and worth it.

I received this as an ARC through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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