Christina Hesselholdt

Translated by Paul Russell Garrett

French paperback with flaps, 192 pages
Published 19 June 2019 (UK) | 20 August (US)

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Co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union

With Vivian, her second novel to be published in English, Christina Hesselholdt delves into the world of the enigmatic American photographer Vivian Maier (1926–2009), whose unique body of work only reached the public by chance. On the surface, Vivian Maier lived a quiet life, working as a nanny for bourgeois families in Chicago and New York. And yet, over the course of four decades, she took more than 150,000 photos, most of them with Rolleiflex cameras. The pictures were discovered in an auction shortly before she died, impoverished and feasibly very lonely. Who was this outsider artist, and why did she remain in the shadows her whole life? In this playful, polyphonic novel, we watch Vivian grow up in a severely dysfunctional family in New York and Champsaur in France, and we follow her later life as a nanny and street photographer in Chicago. A meditation on art, madness and identity, Vivian is a brilliant novel by Denmark’s most inventive and radical novelist.

Financial Times Best Books of 2019

Vivian is a fascinating, ingeniously constructed piece of documentary fiction. The novel’s short sections illuminate Vivian Maier in brilliant flashes without ever dispelling her singular mystery.’
— Adam Foulds, author of Dream Sequence

‘Christina Hesselholdt transposes one of the greatest enigmas of twentieth century photography, Vivian Maier, with a synaesthetic delicacy. Part eerie acapella of confessions, part hoarder’s clippings come to life, Hesselholdt’s exceptional work on the life of Vivian Maier is as rare and roguish as the artist herself.’
— Yelena Moskovich, author of Virtuoso

‘Like its protagonist, this ambling story relishes the connective, startling minutiae of the commonplace encounter…. Out of Vivian’s torrent of travel, homelife, and familial resentment, Hesselholdt provides flashes of odd loveliness.’ 
Zack Hatfield, ArtForum

‘Only the second of Hesselholdt’s works to be translated into English – adroitly so by Paul Russell Garrett – this fragmented, polyphonic novel plays with the enigma of its subject: “Vivian”, “Viv”, “Vivienne”, “Miss Maier”, “Kiki”, “V. Smith”, depending on the scene or her mood…. Never sacrificing the opacity that makes Maier so fascinating, [Vivian] is as strange and mercurial as the inscrutable figure at its centre, and as prickly too. But then, as Hesselholdt has Vivian explain to one of her small charges, “Art is not somewhere you feel comfortable.”’ 
— Lucy Scholes, Financial Times

‘Hesselholdt brings Maier to life, luminously: looking down into the viewfinder on the top of her Rolleiflex camera, seeing the image for the first and last time.’ 
Tom Overton, frieze

Vivian is less than two hundred pages long, but it is filled to the brim with memories and suppositions. Christina Hesselholdt wonderfully illustrates Vivian Maier’s complex persona through a multitude of voices demanding to be heard.’
— Laila Obeidat, London Magazine

‘Skilfully told through multiple perspectives, confessions and thought fragments, Vivian is an outsider’s tale of creativity, urbanity and loneliness, written with sensitivity and intelligence.’
— Sam Whyte, Buzz Magazine 

‘Bringing together features of the essay, literary biography, and historical fiction, Hesselholdt … offers intriguing moments for those craving insight into the life of an artist.’
Publisher’s Weekly

‘Playful, tricksy.’
— Rachel Cooke, Observer

Praise for Companions

‘Hesselholdt’s most penetrating insights into the texture of lived experience come in moments of vivid imagery and unexpected humor, which bridge the weight of biography and the lightness of an instant.… those who find connections among these disparate moments will be rewarded with a rare and fragile experience: a rediscovery of the strength of narrative bonds, impossible to dissolve and difficult to forget.’ 
— Alexandra Kleeman, New York Times

‘An affecting homage to, and a high-spirited literary dissection of, Woolf ’s book The WavesCompanions, translated with care and élan by Paul Russell Garrett, is not at all a gloomy work. Hesselholdt’s touch is light, even mocking, as much as her subject matter is grave. There is a dancing intelligence roaming free here, darting back and forth among ideas and sensations. Her novel is a deceptively nonchalant defence of modernism and a work of pure animation.’ 

— Catherine Taylor, Financial Times

Christina Hesselholdt, born in 1962, studied at the Danish Academy of Creative Writing in Copenhagen. Her first novel, Køkkenet, Gravkammeret & Landskabet [The Kitchen, the Tomb & the Landscape], was published in 1991. She has written fifteen books of prose, and received critical acclaim and awards for her books, including the Beatrice Prize in 2007 and the Critics’ Prize in 2010. She was included in Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2013. Companions is her first book to appear in English. Her latest work, Vivian, a novel about the photographer Vivian Maier, was published by Rosinante in 2016. It won the Danish Radio Best Novel Award 2017 and has been shortlisted for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2017.

Paul Russell Garrett translates from Danish and Norwegian. He serves on the management committee of the Association of Danish-English Literary Translators (DELT) and is Programme Manager for a theatre translation mentoring programme, [Foreign Affairs] Translates!