Saturday 25 September 2021

Book Review: Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug (Contemporary)

Title: Present Tense Machine
Author: Gunnhild Øyehaug
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: 11 January 2022
Pages: 176
Format: eBook - EPUB
Genre: Contemporary
Source: ARC via NetGalley

On an ordinary day in Bergen, Norway, in the late 1990s, Anna is reading in the garden while her two-year-old daughter, Laura, plays on her tricycle. Then, in one startling moment, Anna misreads a word, an alternate universe opens up, and Laura disappears. Twenty years or so later, life has gone on as if nothing happened, but in each of the women’s lives, something is not quite right.

Both Anna and Laura continue to exist, but they are invisible to each other and forgotten in each other’s worlds. Both are writers and amateur pianists. They are married; Anna had two more children after Laura disappeared, and Laura is expecting a child of her own. They worry about their families, their jobs, the climate—and whether this reality is all there is.

In the exquisite, wistful, slyly profound
Present Tense Machine, Gunnhild Øyehaug—called “one of the most exciting writers working today” by the bestselling author Jenny Offill—delivers another dazzling renovation of what fiction can do: a testament to the fact that language shapes the world.


Present Tense Machine is a book that is, in many ways, hard to review. Its premise was intriguing, and I loved the idea that language could have the effect of creating alternate realities. However, I always felt a little disconnected from the characters and their lives as I was reading, due to the style of the narration, and perhaps that was intentional on the part of author, to keep the reader in a sense of unreality and disconnection similar to that of the characters, but it didn't quite work for me personally. Overall, I would say that, while I appreciated what the author set out to achieve with this book, its style didn't draw me in, and I think it will be one of those texts that some readers will take to while others struggle with it. I am giving it 3.5 stars. It was certainly interesting on several levels, but it's not a book I see myself wanting to reread in the future as it never touched me deeply.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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