TL;DR – a story about how even the most rational minds can be consumed by the irrational that is called ‘love’.
Summary (warning: spoilers)
Rakel is a mathematics genius. She also has a passion for literature, music and art. In these things, she embodies herself completely. Her passions are a focus of such intensity that it often comes at the expense of everything else that is happening around her. Whether it is a mathematical problem, an evocative poem, a classical piece of music or a painting, if Rakel finds herself drawn to it then her whole focus is consumed by that which she has turned her mind toward. In doing so, it triggers emotions that ripple through her entire body and soul.
When she meets Jakob, her mathematics professor, a spark is ignited between them. Unfortunately, he’s married and has children, but Rakel can’t help herself. Her focus is only on him, and it threatens to consume her.
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the character Rakel is an INTJ (Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judging). In one of the chapters, she examines this personality type and is described under Myers-Briggs as one of the rarest personalities; a combination of innovative, independent, strategic, logical, reserved, insightful, and driven by their own original ideas to achieve improvements.
In short, Rakel prioritises rationality and success over politeness and pleasantries.
Her honesty can be interpreted as being blunt to a fault. But it is this outlook, combined with her intellect, that attracts Jakob to her. He identifies in her all the brilliance and wonder that is contained within her mind’s eye and soul. When her attention is focused on him, and she demonstrates a sharpness of wit that surprises him, Jakob finds he cannot help but be drawn in to her orbit.
Being married with kids doesn’t stop Jakob from falling in love and sleeping with Rakel. And Rakel can’t stop herself from reciprocating. Jakob then makes a promise that after eight years (when his kids are old enough), he will leave his wife and they can be together. Rakel, of course, holds on to this promise like it is the sole purpose of her existence.
Stories of students falling in love with their teachers or vice versa is a universal minefield. Where Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine is effective is the in-depth dissection of Rakel’s thoughts and feelings towards Jakob.
Hveberg does this, not only through directly placing you in Rakel’s mind but also through the real life story of Sofia Kovalevskaya, who was a pioneer for women in mathematics and considered the greatest known woman scientist before the twentieth century. Sofia received private tutoring from Karl Weierstrass, a famous German mathematician, and speculation abounds whether the pair had a romantic relationship.
Capturing Rakel’s contradictory nature is impressively done by Hveberg (who on the back cover earned a PhD in mathematics and makes me wonder how much of the author is in Rakel). In one sense, Rakel is logical, insightful, and ambitious, in another sense, she is emotional (at times, overly so), clueless, and stagnant. Her interactions with Jakob summarise this dichotomy. One moment, their interactions are intelligent and witty, and other moments, Rakel comes off as clingy and jealous.
Thus demonstrating that even if you’re an INTJ personality type, you are not immune to the desire and actions of love, which can override everything that is fundamental to how a person perceives themselves. For example, Rakel is willing to wait the eight years even though the loneliness (when she and Jakob are apart) begins to manifest in psychosomatic ways. Rakel becomes so ill that she is bedridden for excruciatingly long periods of time. You can almost see her soul shrivelling before your eyes.
It will come as no surprise that Jakob breaks his promise. Nearing on the eight year mark, he confesses to Rakel that he won’t leave his wife, and he attempts to explain why. The title of the book is said from Jakob to Rakel as part of the explanation. Two lonely souls coming together to try and alleviate their loneliness. But when Jakob finally sees that he is not alone when he is with his wife and that he still loves her, it is only Rakel that is left alone.
The story is an existential piece of work that is clearly personal to Hveberg and confirmed by the author’s notes at the end of the novel. For some readers, they will identify and be consumed by Rakel and what she experiences because they have experienced something similar. For others, they will likely not get past the first few chapters because they will want to slap Rakel and yell at her to dump Jakob’s sorry ass and get over it.
For myself, I found the last third of the novel to be a struggle as it becomes repetitive both in the ongoing investigation into Sofia Kovalevskaya’s life and Rakel’s ruminations. Rakel also comes to love another man named David, who works with mechanical puzzles (like Rubik’s cubes), and when she realises that she’s fallen for him (note: David is also married), she lets him go. Thus, demonstrating that she will not make the same mistake twice. However, I personally did not think it was necessary to include David’s character.
When Jakob reveals he won’t leave his wife, it would have been sufficient to then lead into Rakel’s process to move on and how she goes about it. The insertion of David into the story just felt like dragging out an already pretty depressing story.
The ‘hope’ at the end, comes in the form of Rakel writing her own novel. A process of catharsis. She talks about the structure of her book being in two parts – gold and granite – and repeating it over and over so there are multiple parts all made up of gold and granite. She concludes that even though there might be more granite, overall there will be a gold sheen because the gold will stand out more.
I don’t know about that. The granite seems to definitely come to the forefront and weigh heavy in Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine. Rakel’s luminous moments are sucked in by the black hole that forms by her longing and subsequent break-up with Jakob. She uses the black hole metaphor throughout the story.
And though there are theories that suggest that certain things can escape a black hole, and we are given the impression that Rakel is able to escape hers by story’s end, it does not feel like she will ever be whole again.
In the end, a quote from the story sums it up: The irrational always wins over the rational in this world. And thus is love captured in many a story because of this.
2 out of 5.