tsum | Review: Lynn Ullman – Girl, 1983

Personal but also global

Even though it says novel on the cover, you can hardly do much else Girl, 1983 Written by Lynn Ullman as a personal adaptation of some of the intense events from her youth. This is how it is also referred to on the back cover: ‘Lynn Ullman goes down in her memory […]. Ullman tells of a 16-year-old girl who is no match for influence and intimidation into asserting herself from men in power. An unequal, short-lived relationship with a thirty-year-old photographer left deep scars that flare up from time to time and become painfully palpable.

The sixteen-year-old heroine lives in New York and is approached by photographer A. A girl who would rather wander around the city than go to school – signing her absentee letters – will like it. Her mother, who lives alone with her, advises against it, but still lets her go on the condition that she be in her hotel room at 10 am every night and call her mom.

What should have been a party and success, to be photographed for famous magazines and perhaps be scouted for modeling, turns into a tragic and lonely adventure. She is picked up from the airport, she can quickly deliver her luggage to her hotel, and then she has to go straight to the studio. Nobody cares about her there, certainly not A.J. That evening I went out with a number of other supermodels. When it turns out at the disco that the guys can’t keep their notes and even their hands to themselves, she leaves the disco in a hurry. And this is where things really go wrong. She doesn’t know the address of the hotel, only the address of the photographer, which she wrote down on a piece of paper in her hurry. Walking around Paris at night, she finds someone who accompanies her to A.’s address.

It was all wintry white with a hint of blue in it. I remember that. It was the middle of the night, I had lost track of time, Mama was still up, but far, far away, in another time zone, I called and called for hours, no answer, I was pretty sure, I spoke to the lady at the front desk, and I asked her in French Unsure whether she saw a girl return after checking in that morning. I didn’t know the hotel address. or name. I forgot to write that. How stupid can you be?

This moment occurs in several places in the book, he walks outside, at night, not knowing where to go. As well as the question of what would have happened if I knew the address of the hotel. Would he have appeared differently? Isn’t it wrong then? You often blame yourself for making a mistake, looking for the moment when you went the wrong way.

Surprised, A. opens the door in the middle of the night and lets her in. Displaced and homeless, she has now found a home. She crawls into bed with him and allows herself to be tempted, going further than she actually wants. Driven by desire, lust, and frightening loneliness. And once in this position, she cannot get out of bed. Only when he was done did she go to the bathroom to sit on the cold tiles and puke.

She returns to New York in a panic, but continues to call A., who also hangs out there. When she thinks she has a date, another man is waiting for her who coaxes her into his lap and then shamelessly gropes her. Ullman shows well that it’s not easy to resist at this age, especially if you want to achieve something, make up for something, or simply not go back to old men who pretend what they do is completely normal.

The story travels through time, from her young childhood before 1983 to her life as an adult woman in Oslo. But 1983 always jumps in with her and never lets her go. “By writing down what happened, and telling the story as truthfully as possible, I’m trying to piece it together into one body – the woman from 2021 and the girl from 1983. I don’t know if that’s possible.”

It is precisely because of the clear language used by Lynn Ullman that everything is described as it happened. No exaggerations, no big feelings, she just tries to stay as close as possible to the experience of that time. Somewhere she quotes a journalist who wants to talk about her book, what is real and what is fiction. But there is no limit, what is in her head has happened. By writing about a 16-year-old girl and switching perspective between “I” and “she,” she tries to distance herself, let go, and at the same time remain a part of her life. “A woman who describes herself in the first person is me, and I am not.”

A beautiful story that is incredibly personal and universal. It is not about guilt, but about the effects and consequences. And about controlling events a long time ago. So read this novel.

Arjen van Megard

Lyn Ullman – Girl, 1983. Translated by Lucy Petersen. Degos, Amsterdam. 256 pages, 23.99 euros.

Leave a Comment