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Nina Wähä

Babetta

Katja and Lou have been best friends ever since they first met in a high school drama class. But while Katja has had to abandon her acting dreams, Lou has become an international film star, a career that took off thanks to the celebrated costume drama Babetta.

It’s summer, and Lou has asked Katja if she wants to come and spend the vacation with her at a chateau in southern France where she lives with Renaud, a legendary French cinematographer twice her age. Katja is on a break from her university film studies, awaiting a decision whether they will finance her dissertation, so the trip suits her well. But perhaps even more important: when Lou calls, Katja comes – just the way things have always been.

Despite Lou’s obvious power advantage, their friendship seems at first unchanged. They share everything like siblings, or like two sides of the same mirror. For Katja, Lou and Renaud’s world appears surreal, more fantasy than reality. She observes her hosts with a reluctant fascination, trying to decipher Lou’s moods and the nature of her relationship with Renaud. As the weeks go by, Katja finds herself more and more entangled in their games. Strange things start to occur, truth and lies seem impossible to tell apart, as if reality is bending at someone’s will. Is Lou simply using their friendship as part of a bizarre, staged act of play?

Following the immense success with her polyphonic novel Testament, Nina Wähä returns with an enigmatic psychological chamber play that is also a tribute to the art of filmmaking with all its heroes and villains. In Babetta, Wähä explores the symbiosis of a female friendship bordering on exploitation, as in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, and at the same time she skilfully captures the sun-drenched suspense from Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and François Ozon’s Swimming Pool.

Nina

About the author

Wähä

Nina Wähä (b. 1979) saw her major breakthrough in 2019 with third novel, Testament. It has sold more than 120.000 copies to date and was shortlisted for a string of literary awards, such as the August Prize, Norrland’s Literature Prize, Tidningen Vi:s Literature Prize, and was awarded Swedish Radio’s Literature Prize. In addition to being an…

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Denmark: Modtryk, Estonia: Rahva Raamat, Finland: WSOY, France: Robert Laffont, Norway: Pax, Poland: Poznanskie, Russia: Ripol

Katja and Lou have been best friends ever since they first met in a high school drama class. But while Katja has had to abandon her acting dreams, Lou has become an international film star, a career that took off thanks to the celebrated costume drama Babetta.

It’s summer, and Lou has asked Katja if she wants to come and spend the vacation with her at a chateau in southern France where she lives with Renaud, a legendary French cinematographer twice her age. Katja is on a break from her university film studies, awaiting a decision whether they will finance her dissertation, so the trip suits her well. But perhaps even more important: when Lou calls, Katja comes – just the way things have always been.

Despite Lou’s obvious power advantage, their friendship seems at first unchanged. They share everything like siblings, or like two sides of the same mirror. For Katja, Lou and Renaud’s world appears surreal, more fantasy than reality. She observes her hosts with a reluctant fascination, trying to decipher Lou’s moods and the nature of her relationship with Renaud. As the weeks go by, Katja finds herself more and more entangled in their games. Strange things start to occur, truth and lies seem impossible to tell apart, as if reality is bending at someone’s will. Is Lou simply using their friendship as part of a bizarre, staged act of play?

Following the immense success with her polyphonic novel Testament, Nina Wähä returns with an enigmatic psychological chamber play that is also a tribute to the art of filmmaking with all its heroes and villains. In Babetta, Wähä explores the symbiosis of a female friendship bordering on exploitation, as in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, and at the same time she skilfully captures the sun-drenched suspense from Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and François Ozon’s Swimming Pool.

Reviews

Tremendously stylish

Babetta is at once a relationship drama, a puzzling mystery and a sultry summer thriller where the atmosphere becomes increasingly suffocating day by day. Tremendously stylish /… /Babetta is glossily enticing and an intellectually rich novel that deftly challenges our way of seeing. Whose eyes do we use?

Dala-Demokraten
...a thought-provoking novel, with a deliciously playful composition

Wähä writes entirely from Katja’s perspective. The tone is somewhat verbose, occasionally naïve. She is the constant spectator, often at a slight disadvantage and with a critical gaze on her own body. At the same time Katja possesses an enormous theoretical knowledge of cinematic storytelling and delivers one sharp analysis of the movie Babetta after the other. There are plentiful of parallels between the movie and life at the French chateau when it comes to the luxury and the hierarchies as well as the longing for happiness. But one can also wonder if Katja is telling the truth and if there are things that she chooses not to share. ‘Wouldn’t you lie for me if I asked you?’ Lou asks Katja as Renaud prepares to witness in favour of his friend who is facing persecution. Lou’s question immediately sparks another question, the one regarding the role of sincerity in a true friendship. Shouldn’t a true friend take issue when you trip up or blatantly make a mistake? What Katja doesn’t know when the question about lying arises is that it will soon come to a head. In addition, Wähä elegantly wraps the conclusion inside a cinematic game. A section with the headline ‘director’s cut’ offers an alternative ending. It is an ending that also adds new energy to the friendship and – at least enables – a greater equality. The novel brings back a memory of a conversation I once had. It is a given to have different friends for different purposes, the other person said at the time. My thoughts were in a spin, because does that really signify friendship and not something more obscure? On the contrary, Wähä allows the friendship in Babetta to expand in every direction, to be both tender and generous, entertaining yet challenging, defenceless yet calculating. The result is a thought-provoking novel, with a deliciously playful composition.

Svenska Dagbladet
a very captivating and stylishly composed story

Following the success of the swarming and polyphonic family chronicle Testament, Nina Wähä here returns with a condensed and cinematic novel of a more common format /… / I want to begin by declaring that Babetta is a very captivating and stylishly composed story. I read it without stopping in a matter of days, completely absorbed. When I have reached the end, my vision feels completely blurry, a bit like when you have sat in the sun for too long and it suddenly gets shrouded by clouds /… / In a creeping and almost invisible manner Wähä plants traces of aggression in Katja’s subservient relationship with Lou. The one who is weak is not always kind. There are not a lot of external events in this chamber play, at least not until the end draws near. Everything happens in the details and the gestures, in the mounting tension between Katja and Lou, in the ménage à trois with the boyfriend that is underway but never takes off. And while the heat increases and the anxiety levels accelerate, the servants float around like ghosts and conjure up meals and drinks /… / The novel’s forte can be found in the atmosphere it evokes. The filmic and smooth prose offers equal amounts of suggestive and chilly undercurrents

Sydsvenskan
Nina Wähä is simply a genius

There have always been novels about desire and obsession. The gaze at the other. Power and powerlessness. But I dare to claim that none of them have had the glossy and claustrophobic aesthetics that Nina Wähä so elegantly conjures in Babetta. The aesthetics is so sophisticated, so brilliantly executed, as if the entire novel is a stage with actors that play cliché characters, as if nothing is for real. And of course it isn’t, it is a novel where Nina Wähä plays with absolutely everything: forms and genres, character clichés and the cinematic gaze. And the way she does it! Babetta is a totally accomplished novel. Nina Wähä merges the contemporary themes surrounding power, happiness, desire, the roles we play and how quickly the roles can be reversed, without not even once forsaking aesthetics and storytelling. Babetta is a slow claustrophobic journey towards an uncertain exit: something crucial may happen when the perfect exterior cracks open, but the story may just as well receive a completely trite ending –Katja simply returns home once Lou takes on her next acting role. That is why the ending is pure genius, where Nina Wähä adds a Director’s Cut, as if she wanted to say that there are several other visions of an ending than the original cut. I love what Nina Wähä achieves with Babetta. It is both magnificent and epic, at the same time as it is breathlessly claustrophobic. I love that Nina Wähä brings the creative movie aesthetics to literature. I love how Nina Wähä commands her fictional characters like puppets into the smallest frame. I love both endings of the novel. My superlatives are not enough to express how masterful Babetta is as a novel and as a framework. Nina Wähä is simply a genius!

Borås Tidning

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