Sebastian, Clara and Matilda are triplets in their mid-20s and already familiar with how life can batter, a truth compounded by the revelation of a family secret that upends everything they thought was true. Amanda Svensson's brilliant A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, translated from the Swedish by Nichola Smalley, is a sprawling family epic exploring complex questions about the power of one's mind and the impact of one's choices.
After recounting the details of the triplets' dramatic birth (one infant--no one recalls who--whisked away in crisis), the novel opens in London where Sebastian is working at the Institute of Cognitive Science. There he meets Laura, who becomes his patient when her world, rendered entirely in two dimensions, goes flat. Part two turns to Clara, fleeing Sweden for Easter Island, an end-of-the-world destination suitable for a possible breakdown in the face of "the brutal, imposing beauty and revulsion of apocalypse, the only sort of beauty that had anything to do with truth." Part three should be granted to Matilda, but even though her story (which includes her synesthesia) is told, the novel denies readers such a neat pattern. Instead, the triplets' stories intermingle across continents and through tremendous upheavals, binding them more tightly even as their lives diverge.
This sharp and expansive novel takes up love, loss, truth and beauty and will challenge readers to decide if they agree when Matilda asserts: "We're all living in different worlds. It's up to each of us to decide what form that world takes." --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian