Danish novelist Christian Jungersen worked as a copywriter for an ad agency and then as a TV script consultant and a film teacher before turning his hand to novels—and has since been published in more than 20 countries. His first novel, Undergrowth (Danish title Krat) won Denmark's Best First Novel award and went on to become a bestseller. His latest novel, the psychological suspense title You Disappear, was voted the best novel of 2012 by Danish library users, and it was on the Danish bestseller list for fiction for more than a year. Translated into English by Misha Hoekstra, it was released in that version earlier this year.
You Disappear is the story of Mia, an elementary schoolteacher in Denmark whose husband, Frederik, is the talented, highly respected headmaster of a local private school. During a vacation in Spain, Frederik has an accident and his visit to the hospital reveals a brain tumor that is gradually altering his personality, confirming Mia's suspicions that her husband is no longer the man he used to be. Now she must protect herself and their teenage son, Niklas, from the strange, blunted, often violent being who lives in her husband's body—and with whom she must share her home, her son, and her bed.
When it emerges that Frederik embezzled millions of crowns from his school, the consequences of his condition envelope the entire community. Increasingly isolated, Mia faces more tough questions. Had his illness already changed him back then when he still seemed so happy? What are the legal ramifications? In her support group for spouses of people with brain injuries, Mia meets a defense attorney named Bernhard. Together they help prepare for Frederik's court case by immersing themselves in the latest brain research and in classic philosophical questions of free will, while simultaneously navigating the uncertain waters of their growing mutual infatuation.
Kirkus noted that the book is "An intelligent, at times even intellectual, novel about philosophical issues of identity and moral responsibility . . . Jungersen writes brilliantly and raises knotty questions of identity." The author himself tackled this question in a recent Q&A, finding himself particularly obsessed with illness and our vulnerability, that our personalities could be snatched from us via a stroke, brain cancer, or Alzheimer's. Do we have a soul or are we merely products of our biochemical brain cocktails? Do you become someone else when you’ve suffered brain damage?
Jungersen is a dedicated researcher, and this book was no exception. He flew to Dartmouth College to talk to a neurophilosopher there, and also visited a number of teachers in Farum, the Copenhagen suburb where You Disappear unfolds. He spoke with doctors, lawyers, accountants, and even contacted a man who’d been convicted of swindling, in the prison where the man was serving time. All that research pays off in both the level of realistic detail offered up in this fascinating book and in the interstitial material that explains some of the thornier concepts.
You Disappear is part romantic novel, part philosophical treatise, part suspense thriller, but at its core is the search for identity and where we stand within our families and communities. As Jungersen notes, "A few years ago, ADHD and depression were personality traits; now they are illnesses that we can medicate our way out of. Soon we might also have drugs for laziness, hot tempers, self-absorption, and the inability to make long-term plans. It was my ridiculously ambitious hope to discover a story that fit this previously unheard-of way of understanding people – and with it, a genuinely new narrative form."