The Millions

Please Read This Interview Carefully: Karen Havelin on Writing Pain

I began reading Karen Havelin’s debut novel Please Read This Leaflet Carefully with the intention of reviewing it. Havelin’s protagonist Laura, a Norwegian expat who has settled in New York, lives with endometriosis and the chronic pain it causes. I was determined to be a good literary citizen and review as many books as I could before the September release of my debut essay collection, Codependence, which centers in part on my intractable headaches. A novel centered on another woman’s chronic pain seemed a good place to start. But as I got further into the book and learned that Laura’s health issues have their roots in Havelin’s own experience, I became less interested in writing a straightforward review and more curious about what we could learn from putting our books and bodies in conversation.

Havelin was diagnosed with endometriosis at age 29, though her symptoms went undiagnosed for 10 years. Endometriosis affects over 170 million women worldwide, and according to the CDC, women are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from headache disorders; although more women report chronic pain than men, studies show that doctors and researchers often dismiss or overlook women’s pain. Havelin and I arranged a video chat—no easy task when one of you is in Norway—and discussed her novel and its aims, how pain affects our writing lives, inequities in pain treatment, and more.

 In telling people about your book, I’ve called it “a novel about a woman with endometriosis,” and it is that, but I also know that description is reductive. How do you describe the

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Millions

The Millions9 min read
What the Literature About Contemporary Korean Women’s Lives Illuminates About Our Own
A quick survey suggests my experience is rather typical, how this hostile atmosphere begins when girls are still children, continues with everyday misogyny, and proceeds when the weaponized penis enters the workplace. The post What the Literature Abo
The Millions7 min read
Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Baxter, Reyes, and More
Here's a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Charles Baxter, Dolores Reyes, and more—that are publishing this week. The post Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Baxter, Reyes, and More appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions6 min read
Gravity And Grace And The Virus
It was strangely comforting to read things that had been written in a time of crisis, yet one that was not this crisis, this unbearable time. The post Gravity and Grace and the Virus appeared first on The Millions.