This review is spoiler free.
“Einar felt lonely, and he wondered if anybody in the world would ever know him.”
Published: 2015, by W&N
Genre: Historical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, LGBT, Romance, Adult, Gender, Novels, Queer
Contains: Sexual Content, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Hospitals, Surgery
‘The Danish Girl’ tells the story of Einar and Greta Wegener, a Danish couple, as well as Lili Elbe – a third person introduced to their marriage. After Einar poses for one of Greta’s paintings in women’s clothing, Lili is born, and we follow the story of difficult transformation from Einar to Lili. However, this doesn’t come without consequences.
I’m a huge fan of the movie adaptation of this novel, so when I found a copy of this at a local charity shop, I just knew I had to pick it up and give the original text a try. Needless to say, it was worth the read.
Einar is a beautiful character. Throughout the novel, he encounters multiple turmoils at different stages of his transformation, yet none of which take away any element of his personality. He’s aware that what he is experiencing won’t be well received, and yet none of that stops him. He needs Lili in his life, and will do anything in his power to ensure he doesn’t lose her.
Greta is an interesting character. Arguably, ‘The Danish Girl’ is her story rather than her husband’s, but her development throughout the novel is fascinating. She’s conflicted, unsure whether her husband’s actions are healthy or not, but does what she can to support him on his journey into becoming Lili. At the end of the day, Greta is losing the person she loves, but she remains by his side for as long as possible.
However, the other characters kind of fell slat to me, losing interest in them very quickly and urging to continue with Lili’s story rather than theirs.
‘The Danish Girl’ is a work of fiction, based on the real life accounts of Lili Elbe, meaning this is not an accurate presentation of Lili’s life. However, nevertheless it’s certainly a gripping novelisation of the life of Lili. While this is a beautifully written story, with a poetic narrative and enchanting characters, this is not a page turner. It’s a realistic account of someone’s life, involving often boring elements as well as the exciting, and that’s okay. It worked. Ebershoff’s writing made up for any of those points, keeping reading intrigued by atmospherics from the 1920’s and it’s views on the transgender community during that time.
Overall, I’m deeply impressed by this novel. I went in purely for the enjoyment of the film, and came out with more respect for the characters and their journeys. A fascinating read.