The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

TDGThe Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
Published: 2015 by Penguin Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Romance, LGBT
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143108399

4 stars

The Danish Girl is one of the books with the richest imagery I’ve ever read, but above that prospect, I find that this book has a beautiful balance between fragility and elegance. It paints the lives of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and Greta Wegener with tremendous detail—but unfortunately, not in the kind of details that I’m looking for.

As much as I’m entranced with Einar’s story, I find that he has, in a way, been outshone by his wife’s story. I did enjoy the duality in the point of views for this book, but I just wished that there were more layers of paint to remove (pardon the references) in order to see the true form of Einar. Both he and Greta are the main characters—their voices the loudest among all the others, but it seems that this book is just about 75-80% Greta. We get to read about Greta triggering her husband’s transformation, we read about her accepting Lili, her being jealous, her being conflicted on how a “game” has taken a turn for something more grave. We read about her past and yes, we do read about Einar’s as well, but that doesn’t seem to return the balance of the main characters at all. It doesn’t seem to help that Lili is a separate character (of sorts) on her own too. I understand that Einar has to fade in order for Lili to come alive, but I still think that this book would’ve been better if more focus had been given to Einar’s situation in the beginning to the middle of the book. After all, The Danish Girl isn’t simply about the extent a wife would go in order to allow her husband to find his true self, despite the consequences she might face, it is also a book about the husband realising that he isn’t entirely who he believed himself as. It is also about the challenges the husband faces on that journey of his.

On the topic of being rich in imagery, this book is filled to the brim with descriptions of scenery and such—perhaps a nod to Einar’s preference of painting sceneries? However, for me, this richness was a little too much. It’s as though bits of the action—the plot or in other words, the radiance of the main singular subject—is sacrificed in order to make more space to paint miniscule details on the setting. To say this in another way, it’s like Greta has placed more emphasis on the background of one of her paints of Lili instead of her actual subject. Now, regarding this book, the over-abundance in descriptions has brought it redundancy. Many times I’ve skipped over a few lines simply because something similar had already been mentioned previously. Sometimes, those lines don’t seem to contribute anything in either moving the plot forward or character traits as well.

Furthermore, there are times when I wished Greta was more this or that—almost my kind of perfect, but then, I realised that that would make her inhuman, of course. The ending left me a bittersweet taste. It occurred to me that the name “Widow House” could be a not-so subtle way of foreshadowing, and for a moment, I panicked. Of course, the panic was for naught, but I just wished that there was a little more to this book—an epilogue to cement a happy (happier?) ending for the characters. Even so, I cannot deny my delight in reading this book.


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