20 January 2007

Darker mystery

When I was reading one of Karin Fossum's books (see below), one of the online reviews I read compared her books to those of Kirsten Ekman. Ekman is Swedish and I thought that was perhaps the basis for the comparison. Turns out the similarity is perhaps not ethnic, but a result of living in the far north country of Norway and Sweden, just east of where some of my ancestors came from. (Think about Ingmar Berman films.) Well, Dan Conrad read one of Ekman's books. Here's what he had to say:

"Just a note to say that moments ago I finished reading the book Blackwater that someone had recomended to you. Whew! I thought Fossum was 'dark!'

"I kept thinking of a comment made long ago by Pauline Kael in a review of The Immigrants. It was something to the effect that she tried not to be prejudiced but there were limits: she definitely would not want her daughter to marry a Swede; all that stoic silence! Imagine if she'd read Blackwater!

"It is a mystery, yes, in the sense that a brutal murder occurs at the opening of the book and at the very end (20 years later) it is revealed who did it.

"That leaves 90% of the book to be about the not very lovable folks who eke out a living in the northernmost regions of Sweden/Norway in the area abutting Lappland. It is equally about that land: harsh, desolate, unforgiving, deathly cold in winter and bug infested in summer. Nothing romantic about it or about the people who survive in it. They work, they drink, and mostly they screw a lot which is sometimes vividly described but done so as it is performed: no eroticism, no romance, no buildup, just sex. The forests are being cut down, the commune (where maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of the story takes place) is dreary and falls apart, and so it goes until sometimes it's painful to go on.

"But go on you do--even if you have to get a page or two into the following chapter before you even know who's "voice" the new section is being written in. I don't see how one could stop!

"The characters are interesting and vividly portrayed (and, to be honest, 3 or 4 of them are actually pretty good folks). You get to know a lot of them so well you feel their pain, their loneliness, their fear, their hate. I don't recall any joy. You come also to feel the cold, abhor the bugs, worry that you'll be lost in the confusing forest paths, wonder that anyone can live here at all. Even the sound of the birds is more ominous than beautiful.

"Most of all, and always lurking in the background, is that brutal, unsolved murder (and thus a murderer) which adds a prevailing sense of tension, a kind of brooding fearfulness that is never far from the consciousness of the people--and the reader.

"All in all I'd have to say (and I’m almost surprised to be saying) it is a powerful, extremely well-told story that I looked forward to returning to each day—even knowing it would ruin the possibility of sleep for at least an hour afterward.

"Still it is definitely not for everyone. Maybe you have to be Scandinavian. But there's no doubt Ms. Ekman is an exceptional writer. This is the first of her books to be translated into English. I almost hope there are no more--because if there are, maybe in a year or so, I will not be able to resist."

By the way, Dan, Ekman has written 17 novels.

Blackwater soon to be available in Hindi.

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