brain injury

You Disappear by Christian Jungersen

you disappearI find this novel difficult to comment on. On one hand, it has a rather interesting premise, but on the other, the entire time I felt that some sort of emotion was supposed to be elicited from the reader that just never happened for me.

The novel begins with Mia, her husband Frederik, and their teenage son Niklas, on their vacation in Majorca. Frederik is driving erratically, with Mia begging him to stop. An accident ensues and it is revealed that Frederik has a slow-growing brain tumor that’s taken up residence for probably years.

As Mia’s first-person narration flips between the present and memories of times past, it is revealed that Frederik’s behavior and personality were always shifting. Previously, he had affairs with other women, but in the last few years, he has been more attuned to his family. Or is he? Mia’s perspective is wholly unreliable in so many ways. This gives an interesting feel that her perspective is skewed; whether she’s trying to cover up behavior or not is always questioned throughout the novel. Sometimes onion skin layers are delicately unravel and this is where my intrigue is at its highest.

Mia is warned that Frederik’s behavior and personality will change leading up to his neurosurgery, but the doctor also tells her that he had probably been changing some time before all of this. When it is quickly revealed that Frederik had embezzled 12 million krone from the school where he is headmaster, everything falls apart around them with Mia frantically declaring that his haphazard behavior was caused by his diseased brain.

There are fascinating moments in this novel: scattered throughout are articles and documents that we are meant to believe Mia is reading about brain injury, as well as a few personal emails. These are times when we get a second narration of what’s going on and, perhaps, where Mia’s own mind is out on display.

As Frederik recovers from his surgery, Mia still maintains that he is ill, even when others around her (including her son) comment on how good it is to have the old Frederik back. Mia is perplexed how they can say this. As she continues doing her own research, she starts to “diagnosis” everyone around her with a specific brain injury. In doing so, the reader can notice that she now is changing. Where once her husband was the one disappearing, she is the one. She can’t see what is right in front of her eyes.

I’m having trouble pinpointing what it is that is missing for me. Overall, the story was interesting and Jungersen succeeded most when he held Mia tightly wound up and then only letting out small slips of possible truths (a word I shall use lightly). It is a novel of mental trauma, how we change when those around us are changing, what we choose to believe and accept. Perhaps, Mia’s character was not drawn deep enough; however, many memories and dreams are included.

I wonder if You Disappear will swim in my own mind for a while, having my opinions and memories morph. I didn’t feel necessarily gripped by the novel as a whole, but I wonder if I was supposed to be. Maybe the reader is meant to be washed over by the memories and actions, and left to make up their own mind about what was presented before them. The strength in You Disappear is obvious when it comes to where the changes of one character begins and the other ends, and the pleasures are held in little reveals that build to a bigger picture.


This is Number 9 on The [International] Reading List.