In a deeply contemplative novel of a successful Copenhagen attorney, Irine Beckman, fifty-six, suddenly finds her marriage ending and her life changing virtually overnight. Irine has come to terms with her years and decisions, or so she thinks, an uneventful but pleasant marriage and the unavoidable ageing process: "She no longer believes the world will be better or worse than it is."
When Martin Beckman doggedly pursues the young Irine when they meet in Paris, she has come to the cosmopolitan city to escape the restrictions of small town life: her first youthful adventure. Instead, she is overwhelmed by Martin, who is unrelenting. Eventually Irine succumbs to the weight of Martinís affection, drawn along by his surety. Still, years later, she is not surprised to learn of his infidelity, but vaguely curious that she has not noticed, feeling no particular grief.
After a successful career championing wronged spouses as a divorce attorney, Irine finds herself in the unenviable position of the soon-to-be-divorced, albeit prepared to move on without recrimination. Thoughtful but not sad, Irine reminisces about her marriage, raising children, the couple's resistance to the tumultuous '60s ("the tyranny of emancipated lust") without any need to participate in the sexual revolution. Irine is brutally honest with herself, her aspirations and shortcomings, setting the emotional tone for the novel.
A second blow awaits. Visiting her ailing mother, Irine learns that some of her assumptions about the family past are in error and the world she knows shifts beneath her once more, suddenly less predictable or benign. Mother and daughter have never been close, but the newly discovered information opens Irine's heart, allowing her to acknowledge compassion for a mother she has judged and found wanting.
This exceptional protagonist is forced into rebirth, an awakening in late middle age, in a vital search for the self she has so long ignored, if not entirely neglected. While this journey is painful, it is not without rewards as Irine releases and embraces her authentic self, free of resentments.
The author subtly acknowledges this character's complexities, the clear-eyed approach to the world and a willingness to experience whatever comes her way, undiminished by a broken marriage or the failure of expectations. The novel is both tender and painfully honest, creating a pathway to enlightenment and acceptance, the joyful realization of unexpected rewards: "The sun is warm on her face and she fancies it is the future shining on her."