Hjärtat är bara en muskel – The Heart is But a Muscle

By Kristofer Ahlström

It starts with a car accident. Elisabeth survives but Isak dies. In reality, our story begins far earlier. With a tragedy that causes her to leave her beloved Gotland isle, the place where she belongs but can never return to. Elisabeth moves to Stockholm, to look for anonymity, to forget and to hide. After a time the loneliness seems to hard to bare. Then one day, she sees Isak and he becomes her chosen one. He has a look in his eyes that seems to want to tell her something, it makes her feel real and she decides to chart his existence, catch him and take care of him. They start a passionate relationship that quickly devolves into a power struggle, and she can no longer decide who’s controlling whom? 

As she lies in the hospital after his death, she tries to piece together her fragmented memories. What does she really know about Isak? Bit by bit their story is unveiled; a story about great passion, love’s ownership, fear and jealousy. Of what happened on that fateful night. True to fantastic love stories, an all-consuming love easily transforms and is less overwhelming in time. Class differences and different backgrounds makes for growing jealousy and disturbing secrets in this exquisitely written literary novel.

Published in September 2017, The Heart Is But A Muscle received overwhelming reviews in several of Sweden’s largest newspapers, calling the novel ”extremely well written and composed”.  The reading experience is described as ”trying to untangle a riddle at the same time as listening to a string instrument which gives you tears in your eyes”, and the author is praised for being able to depict love’s physical alchemy as well as taking both words and life itself seriously. 

First published by Bokförlaget Forum, Sweden, 2017.
277 pages.

Denmark, Silkefyret
Sweden, Forum

It is very well-written, well-composed. With increased pace and all the more hair rising, the story moves towards the crucial point: the car-crash and their last hours together. Slowly but surely, the pieces fall into place.
Jenny Högström, Dagens Nyheter

When Kristofer Ahlström narrates, every detail is of importance, either right away or further along the story. /…/ Elisabeth’s pain, exposure and anxiety are so palpable it pains me too. It’s like walking on small, fragile pieces of glass because there’s nowhere else to walk.
Clara Block Hane, Svenska Dagbladet

Kristofer Ahlström is a divinely gifted author. /…/ Imperceptibly, pleasure is exchanged with uneasiness. Jealousy, distrust and impotence finds it’s way into the relationship, not only between Elisabeth and Isak, but between reader and narrator. Who is really telling the story, and who is to be trusted?
Ulrika Knutson, Expressen

This is a novel in the spirit of Hjalmar Söderberg. /…/ Ahlström is a writer who takes both life and words seriously. The heart is just a muscle and it can easily break. He writes about the life-threatening love. And the way he writes!
Kulturnytt, Swedish Radio

Ahlström is a true star when it comes to painting the kind of scenes that sum up a persons emotional basetones. /…/ ’The Heart is But a Muscle’ is Ahlström’s third novel and just like in his previous work, relationships between humans are the centre of his literary exploring – but in a form that is driven by language and elaborated compositions. The strenght in his novel is the portrait of Elisabeth /…/ The initial infatuation is also beautifully depicted, those first groundshaking encounters when life is turned upside-down.
Sydsvenska Dagbladet

Extremely desolate, tough and beautiful. A novel about the loneliness within love.

This is a story about longing, and violence. It is unpredictable, therefore also unnerving. /…/ The strength of the story is that we don’t need to trust the narrator. That gives us the opportunity to read this erotic, suspense drama with insightful curiosity – without being blinded by our own old, habitual sentimentality.