Book Review: The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you will know that back in January I wrote a review about the film The Danish Girl, which stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, who recently won an Oscar for her performance in the film. I fell in love with the film and I became fascinated by the true story of Lili Elbe, namely the fact that for being such a pioneer for the transgender movement her story has largely been forgotten. Although, like the film that was based upon it, the book written by David Ebershoff does not depict the actual true life events of Lili’s transition from man to woman, I had enjoyed the film so much that I had to give the book a go.

To portray how much I loved reading this book simply and straight to the point, I brought it from WHSmiths last Monday, began reading it on Tuesday, and I finished it today, which is Monday. Every opportunity I’ve had to read it, namely on the train to and from work and on my lunch breaks, the book has been in my hand. It’s a truly captivating read that had me hooked from start to finish. 

As I’ve already alluded to, despite the fact that the book is not entirely historically accurate, the effort that Ebershoff went to in order to find out as much as possible about Lili’s life and her transition from Einar into Lili comes across from the second you start reading. A reader can tell when an author is passionate about the subject or story they’re writing about, and it is clear that David Ebershoff wanted to give as much justice as possible to Lili’s story. It’s a satisfying read being able to feel his passion through the written word, and for me personally, it made it all the more easy to connect with the story.

The visuals used by Ebershoff literally make you feel as though you have been directly transported into the scene you’re reading. Whether it’s Einar and Greta’s Widow House home in Copenhagen, the many doctors surgeries Einar visits with Carlisle, the clinic where Einar is transformed into Lili in Dresden and the scenery that surrounds it, Ebershoff’s words make you feel as though you’re slap bang in the centre of it all. You feel like a spectator, an unseen force that is walking alongside the characters and witnessing their every move, as opposed to a reader in a completely different dimension.

It’s not just the landscape you feel you are seeing, but the emotions you’re feeling too. Similarly to how I felt when watching the film, I found myself feeling trapped and uncertain at the beginning of The Danish Girl. With every word I read I began to feel all the more stifled. It was a very oppressive atmosphere in the book that had somehow manifested itself straight off the page and into my own emotions. A similar experience was felt when it transpired that Einar would officially become a woman, and therefore become Lili for once and for all. Hearing that Professor Bolk could perform an operation that would “make Einar better” was almost like having a weight lifted off my very own shoulders. I’ve never been in that situation nor have I ever felt the way Einar has, but I was overcome with a wave of relief upon finding out that he would at last be free to be who he was always destined to be. 

This sensation also extended to Greta. The uncertainty of who she wants to be as a young woman, the stifling atmosphere of expecting to be someone by her parents, the frustration of not knowing how or what to paint, and originally how to get someone to notice her work, I felt all of it. I’ve had this feeling many times when picking up a book, but never has a story come to life as much as The Danish Girl.

To truly experience the sights, sounds and emotions of the characters to me portrays the true talent of a great writer. David Ebershoff has created something that brings a somewhat forgotten story back to life once more. Quite frankly, I didn’t want the book to end, it drew me in and really didn’t want to let me go. Some people say that to completely understand and appreciate the book, you have to have lived events similar to what you’re reading. This couldn’t be farther from the truth when it comes to The Danish Girl. It’s a remarkable book that I personally feel could teach a lot of people about what it’s like to be transgender, and could hopefully play a part in breaking down ignorance and prejudice against transgenders around the world.


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