The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

The Danish Girl is not my first experience with David Ebershoff.  I read The 19th Wife about a year ago and was very underwhelmed; I thought it was good, but too long and I wasn’t convinced that the structure was doing it any favors.  So I went into The Danish Girl with a little trepidation.  I was expecting something similar, since like The 19th Wife, this is a historical novel based in fact about real people, but fictionalized to a point.  I’m happy to report, however, that I much preferred with Ebershoff has done here with The Danish Girl.

This is the story of Einar Wegener and his wife Greta.  Both are painters and one day when Greta’s model cancels, she asks her husband to put on the models stockings and shoes so she could finish the painting.  Lili awakens in Einar and he feels much more complete and confident as a woman.  It’s as if something had been missing his whole life and that something is Lili.  I was so impressed by the way Ebershoff told this story – it was perfect.  He was totally sensitive to Einar and Lili, uses all the correct pronouns and does not make this into a freak show.  It is presented as something natural, though challenging.  When Einar becomes the first man to go through gender reassignment surgery, the times he spends in the women’s clinic is some of the most sensitive writing.

There were many times reading this when it felt almost voyeuristic, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.  I really felt like I was reading about the real Greta and Lili/Einar, not the fictional.  Like with The 19th Wife, I’m a little preoccupied with what is imagined an what is not.  I’ve read a lot about the actual history since then and it’s just amazing how Lili and Greta changed the world they were living in.

Can I recommend this book?  Absolutely.  Will I be reading more of Ebershoff in the future?  Wouldn’t miss it.  I’m also really excited for the movie that’s coming out about this book with Nicole Kidman as Einar/Lili.

So go read this!:  now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: She’s too fond of books, Bermudiaonion’s weblog, Peeking Between the Pages, Book Addiction, The Zen Leaf.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book to review.

17 thoughts on “The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

  1. I had no idea that there was this gender switch going on in this novel! I was really turned off by the reviews of the 19th Wife – but this sounds like a gem!

    Ahh, I’m excited about this one, Lu! Needless to say, great review.

  2. I agree with everything you said in this review. Except the stuff about the 19th Wife as I haven’t read that book and it would be bad for me to agree with stuff said about a book I haven’t read. :D

  3. I’m glad to hear this might be a better book than the 19th Wife. I’ve read Escape by Carolyn Jessop, which was about the FLDS church too, so I was never convinced to read the fiction version of Ebershoff. But I’ve been intrigued by The Danish Girl for a while, so I might just pick it up soon. We’ll see.

    • Mee: That was one of my problems with The 19th Wife, I think. It took a story that had already been told, but not necessarily in a new or exciting way. The Danish Girl, however, is a new story for a lot of people and Ebershoff tells it very successfully!

  4. Ooh, they’re doing a film? Exciting! I bet Nicole Kidman would be good in the role, although I think she’d have been better a few years ago before her face got all frozen.

  5. It’s great to hear that Ebershoff used the correct pronouns. That is so important to the trans community and they say it’s very hurtful when someone calls you “he” when you identify as “she.”

  6. So I had The Danish Girl on my GLBT list and didn’t even realise it was by the same guy who wrote 19th Wife. That makes me not want to read it! Eek! But I guess since you say it’s much better (I haven’t read 19th wife, but flipped thru unsolicited arc and it didn’t seem my style), maaaaaaaaybe I’ll give it a shot. ;)

    • Eva: I really really didn’t like The 19th Wife and my biggest problem was the structure and style of the novel. I had none of those problems with The Danish Girl! Promise!

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