The Royal Physician's Visit, by Per Olov Enquist

Per Olov Enquist

Per Olov Enquist (a k a P. O. Enquist, born 23 September 1934) is one of Sweden's internationally best known authors.

Enquist's works are characterized by a chronic pessimistic view of the world. They describe the restrictions imposed by the pietistical way of living, especially in March of the Musicians (1978) and Lewi's Journey (2001). He gained international recognition with his novel The Royal Physician's Visit (1999).

Per Olov Enquist

Selected works:

  • 1961 - Kristallögat
  • 1963 - Färdvägen
  • 1964 - Magnetisörens femte vinter - The Magnetist's Fifth Winter
  • 1964 - Bröderna Casey
  • 1966 - Sextiotalskritik
  • 1966 - Hess
  • 1968 - Legionärerna.
  • 1971 - Sekonden
  • 1972 - Katedralen i München
  • 1974 - Berättelser från de inställda upprorens tid
  • 1975 - Tribadernas natt - The night of the tribades
  • 1978 - Musikanternas uttåg
  • 1985 - Nedstörtad ängel
  • 1991 - Kapten Nemos bibliotek - Captain Nemo's Library
  • 1992 - Kartritarna (essäsamling)
  • 1999 - Livläkarens besök - The visit of the royal physician
  • 2001 - Lewis resa (om Lewi Pethrus) - Lewi's Journey
  • 2003 - De tre grottornas berg
  • 2004 - Boken om Blanche och Marie - The Book about Blanche and Marie (2006)
  • 2008 - Ett annat liv (autobiography)

This very interesting historical The Royal Physician's Visit, by Per Olov Enquistfiction novel by Swedish author Per Olav Enquist is based on an historical event. It is a very special novel, and Enquist received the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize as well as the Nelly Sachs Prize in 2003 for The the Royal Physician's Visit (original title Livläkarens Besök). The novel has been excellently translated by Tiina Nunnally.

Back in 1766, a child, Christian VII, became king of Denmark. The boy was, by all accounts, very intelligent. However, Christian suffered from quite severe psychological problems; had lots of anxiety. If Enquist is correct, he was – quite likely on purpose - made mad by the members of his court.

Two years later a young physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, was appointed as Christian’s personal physician. Struensee was a man of the Enlightenment. He soon gained the trust of the young king with his quiet behavior, and the king started to give more and more power to Struensee. Thus Struensee, more or less against his own will, became the center of power in the Kingdom of Denmark. And with the power granted him, he started to institute something akin to a revolution in the little country: Struensee issued 632 decrees that improved the life of ordinary Danes and made Denmark a frontrunner of the Enlightenment movement. Some of the reforms were pathbreaking: unrestricted freedom of the press, religious freedom, tariffs to the state instead of the royal household, and a ban on torture during interrogations. But Struensee’s revolution was mainly a paper revolution.

At the same time Struensee, quite possibly with the blessings of the mad king, also started a relationship with the Queen, Catherine Mathilde, and eventually became her lover and even the father of her second child. However, neither Struensee nor the Queen realized how much resistance his actions caused – seemingly the decrees more than the illicit lovemaking with the Queen. So, in 1772 he is arrested, tried and convicted on the basis of his relationship with the queen.

We follow the events during this strange intermezzo in Denmark’s history through the eyes of a number of people: Christians private teacher Reverdil, the young queen Caroline Mathilde, Struensees rival and successor Guldberg and Struensee himself.

The Royal Physician's Visit is an excellent, perhaps even monumental novel. It's a very well-crafted work which lays out the history with insight and clarity. The characters are excellently described, and the whole series of events are very special and intruiging. Enquist’s descriptions of poor Christian are outstanding; including the way his mind is broken. A king has absolute power, but is not supposed to actually exercise it, so the whole court conspires to break his mind. What they produce is an intelligent boy who is a mental wreck and lives in a fantasy world. Per Olov Enquist's style throughout is somber and instructive, and his language plain but filled with complexity. This is both a rich tale of the temptations of power and a poignant love story.

"The remarkable thing, in all cases, is Enquist's delicate, fabular narrative voice, as rendered by Tiina Nunnally's translation from the original Swedish. The feeling is dream-like, the style spare, the effect utterly beguiling." - Kathryn Hughes, Daily Telegraph

"Per Olov Enquist has fashioned one of the most dramatic and memorable historical novels to have hit these shores in years. (...) Enquist sketches the background with a light touch that belies deep learning." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (1)

"Mixing reportage with philosophy, barbarity with eroticism, the masterful Swedish writer Per Olov Enquist has fashioned an extraordinarily elegant and gorgeous novel" - Jonathan Levi, The Los Angeles Times

The Book about Blanche and Marie, by Per Olov Enquist

This is a historical novel by The Book about Blanche and Marie, by Per Olof Enquist Per Olov Enquist, based on facts, but written as fiction – that is, taking liberties with the facts, inserting interpretations, adding the appropriate prose, and so on. It is an interesting and somewhat intriguing novel, with an impressive cast of characters: Foremost of them is Marie Curie, the Polish physicist and eventual Nobel Prize winner, and a woman who unknowingly destroyed a number of lives, including her own, by exposing herself, colleagues and assistants to radioactive materials.

Blanche and Marie is a book about a group of people who played an important part in producing important breakthroughs in medical science, as well as about the period and the prevalent beliefs. Radioactive health spas enjoy inordinate popularity; there is even "Curie Hair Water" for the prevention of hair loss. Radiation was, for a time, considered a miracle. It was commonly believed that radioactive materials had all sorts of wonderful healing powers. Until, that is, experience began to show evidence quite to the contrary.

Enquist builds the novel around three different-colored notebooks filled by the one-armed Blanche Wittman: the yellow, the black and the red. There Blanche questions the nature of love as it relates to the physical world. She was a famous patient of Professor JM Charcot at Saltpetriere Hospital in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and the "hysterical" darling of the scientific community. She was subjected to some treatments that in hindsight look very bizarre for her curious ailment – one element of which was sex.

Later Wittman assisted Marie Curie with her research. And both of them handled that amazing new curative element, radiation, which would later cost Blanche all of her limbs but one and finally her life. In the end, Blanche was ensconced in a wooden box, reduced to a torso with only a right arm and hand to pen her thoughts, forever ruminating on the nature of woman and love.

Blanche and Marie, then, is that tale of two very unusual women, living lives based on misunderstandings, engaging in complicated relationships, very different but still somehow attracted to one another. Blanche was an extraordinary beauty, Marie was an ever inquisitive scientist, and they were both destroyed.

This novel is at times strange, almost rambling, at other times it is beautiful. It is a very unique, very disturbing and very original novel that sheds an interesting and perhaps timely light on two tragic destinies, sacrifices to our constant striving for progress.

"It is dizzy with associations and questions, full of interest and appetite and the satisfactions of a good mind. It is a strongly feminist piece of work, and often funny. The aftertaste it leaves, however, is a little strange." - Anne Enright, The Guardian

"Enquist questions and probes throughout as insistently as his protagonists. Such is his practice anyway; he is one of the contemporary novel's greatest human investigators." - Paul Binding, Independent on Sunday

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