This was donated to my work library, which is always lovely, and is by a Scando author I’ve never heard of and sounded mysterious so I was always going to get this out at some point.
The story of three half-sisters and their relationship with their grumpy womanising father, the story is told through a series of flashbacks to various childhood incidents during the girl’s summer holidays on the Baltic island of Hammarso. As each woman’s story is told the narrative builds up to what is promised in the blurb to be ‘an incident of such senseless cruelty’, that has preveneted the family from ever returning to the Island until after the middle daughter Laura’s mothers death and their father’s retreat to the island in old age, beautiful described by the character as ‘my epilogue.’
The problem is that the incidents of senseless cruelty are so very many and the horrors of childhood so very stark that when the blurb’s promise is finally fulfilled, it all seems a little inevitable, the shock value is lost, this book cried wolf too many times.
The writing is beautiful, sparse and yet full in the same way I’ve come to expect of Swedish and Norwegian literary prose, and made me want to visit the countries even more. Miss Smilla fans (of which I am not one) would do well to read this book.
The first third, the story of the eldest sister Erika is gorgeous. I read the first 80 pages sitting in Cafe Enzo drinking tea and eating eggs and reading it and had one of those moments where if you met your life in the street it would be love at first sight. However, the book rapdily goes wrong very quickly-the standard of the writing stays the same but nothing is resolved. There are numerous little plot points and devices that go no where-what happens to the pregnant woman in the car? What happens to Paap? Where is Marion now? These questions bugged me so much that ultimately, like many many readers on Goodreads, I left this book feeling cold. In fact, yesterday I was writing up my reading diary for the month and completly forgot I’d read this book, despite finishing it on Tuesday, three days ago.
This is a real shame because the writing is so good, if you liked Jon McGregor or Salley Vickers or even maybe Barbara Kingsolver or Ann Patchett I think you’d really like this book, but don’t put all your hopes on it.
This book also worked as a lovely companion piece for Annabel, which I read last week, as it was about growing up in the 70s on the other side of a very different world, childhood cruelty and parental relationships as well. I’d give both of these books a 3/5 but for very different reasons.