Full of Witty Remarks and Oddities: Mona by Pola Oloixarac Review

By Charlie Fabre

‘We convert ourselves into something absurd because the absurd is already living inside us.’

I read this one earlier in the year, but I really haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, and I think it’s a shame because this was an early 2022 release which I think ended up slipping through the cracks a little even though it’s short, dynamic, and so full of witty remarks and oddities! So, I’m bringing the attention back to Mona by Pola Oloixarac in the hopes that more people will pick her up soon.

This is a very short novel, no more than 200 pages, about an author who has been invited to a creative writing prize event in Sweden, along with a few other authors from all different nationalities. Reviewer Lauren Oyler has marked it as ‘very funny and very fuck you’ and that’s exactly what Mona is: a critique of the literary community and the arbitrariness of literary prizes in general, specifically when it comes to praising ethnic and translated authors, all wrapped up in a funny and bizarre bundle which culminates in a shocking ending, backgrounded by Swedish scenery and myths. 

All the characters to me seemed like caricatures of real people that the author herself has met or observed in her own time at festivals and events, which gives it a realness that is so easy to grab on to and accept. There is also a lot of commentary on politics and the responsibilities of an author, which is quite a relevant conversation to have today in light of ‘cancel culture’ and the overwhelming and ever-changing rules of what is and isn’t okay to write about, and by who, and when, etc. Mona poses questions like ‘what is a writer’s job, and why do we write?’ and doesn’t, actually, offer up much of an answer, instead leaving it very open-ended with the twisty surprise ending (which I suspect is commentary in itself). 

Mona herself is a very compelling character. She is very ‘hot girl, sad girl’ vibes, with a lot of layers to unpack, as are all of her novelist comrades. She is deeply sarcastic, sexual, and I think at her core, uncomfortable with who she is and the profession she has chosen. There is a Trigger Warning for some of the things Mona alludes to in her ‘flashback episodes’, such as sexual abuse, though it isn’t anything too graphic. But it is there, so proceed with caution. 

What really ties it together for me is the Swedish setting which is just so beautiful and different and fun which allows for a streak of weirdness to be painted in the background without raising too many eyebrows, only to reveal itself at the end. (Am I talking about the ending too much? Yes, I am, but that’s one of the biggest selling points, so…) Think if Midsommar was about a group of over-confident authors, instead of PhD students.

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