Sunday, 25 July 2010

Review: 'Shadow' by Karin Alvtegen

What the blurb said:

Gerda Persson has lain dead for three days. Her life seems to have been quite ordinary. Until the freezer in her home is opened. It is full of books, neatly stacked and wrapped in clingfilm, a thick layer of ice covering them - all by the same prize-winning author, all with handwritten dedications to Gerda. What story do these books have to tell? And what is their connection to a young boy found abandoned in an amusement park?

What I would say:

Without wanting to appear negative, I didn’t like this book much at all.

The story starts with the abandoned young boy and quickly moves to the death of Gerda Persson. The books of Nobel Prize winner Axel Ragnerfeldt are found in the freezer and so we begin.

Straight away, the characters are really difficult to like - we have a recovering alcoholic prone to wandering off into rambling social commentary (which has no relevance to the story and seems to be a way for the author to vent her views), a privileged but completely ungrateful misogynist and his worn down wife. I couldn’t find sympathy for any of them - Gerda Persson sums it up perfectly: “…I’m content and you’re not. You’re always chasing after what you imagine you could become”. She is addressing the famous Axel himself but it could apply to all of the key characters here.

As you might have guessed, Alvtegen splits her narrative between the past and the present. I actually liked this to some extent - for example, Louise is the long-suffering wife of the borderline alcoholic and general philanderer, Jan-Erik. Through her eyes, we see general confusion at his behaviour and then we witness the actions as they happen and understand their relationship that little bit better.

However, as events pan out, this technique becomes a little worn and the story flits all over in an attempt to hastily rap everything up. And herein lies my biggest problem with this book. The “revelations” at the end of this book come thick and fast and they become rapidly more shocking. Unfortunately, not in a good way. It really is difficult to explain why I disliked this so much without massive spoilers. Let me say this: I have no problem with ‘dark’ themes in my books. What I do have a problem with are events which are so abhorrent that I can’t help but feel the story is cheapened and the author is simply employing shock tactics.

And why were the books in the freezer? I still have no idea whatsoever…

Overall: This really isn’t a “crime novel” as I would imagine them. Yes, there are crimes, but the book is more about the effects of the crimes than the acts themselves. I would only recommend this to adults who aren’t too sensitive and aren’t opposed to reading about the darker side of humanity.

I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who has read this or another of Karin Alvtegen's novels - am I alone in my opinions?

Also, I finished this despite not really wanting to simply because I hate not finishing a book - does anyone else do that to themselves?

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