Review: “The Royal Physician’s Visit” by Per Olov Enquist

Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Royal Physician’s Visit by Per Olov Enquist. Historical fiction.

My attempt to read a great Swedish novel or two, preparatory to visiting the country, was easier said than done. This, for example, by all accounts a great novel by a great Swedish novelist, in fact takes place in Denmark. As it is based on true historical events, the subtitle could be “The 101 Guide to How Not to Reform Your Society Even If You’re Basically Right Because You Will Get Your Head Chopped Off,” a warning for idealists everywhere. (That’s not a spoiler, by the way; we know pretty much from the first page what will happen to Dr Struensee.) It may be entirely a matter of taste whether you prefer to read about it on Wikipedia or in this novel, because the prose in this book is really very strange; choppy, repetitive, awkward and replete with excess exclamation points. I should have hated it. Yet I found it weirdly mesmerizing. Can I recommend it? I don’t think so. The odds of failure are too high. But I did enjoy it.

That was what made him ashamed. They called him “the Silent One.” Perhaps that frightened them. He was quiet, he was tall in stature, he knew how to keep silent; that frightened them. But they didn’t understand that he was basically just a doctor from Altona who presumed to believe that he had a calling.

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