Kjell Ola Dahl (tras Don Bartlett)
Orenda Books, 13 May 2021
Available as: PB, 293pp, e, audio
Source: Advance copy provided by the publisher
I'm grateful to Jamie and Stephen at Black Crow PR for an advance copy of this book.
Priya has worked hard to get into the pre-med course at Stanford, but it looks as though all her dreams will turn to dust. Infected by Lyme disease, she's forced to return home as she struggles to cope with chronic symptoms which make the simplest tasks into major challenges. While her parents are loving and sympathetic, and her younger brother and sister put yup with her, she doesn't want sympathy, she wants her life back.
The only thing that makes things tolerable is the online support forum she joins ("off ouch my bones") and in particular, Brigid ("bigforkhands") who shares about the monthly affliction from which she suffers. Then one night Brigid stops answering the chats...
This is a warm, life affirming book in which Kristen O'Neal brings together (virtually, of course - they're spread round the globe) a disparate but welcoming group of mostly young (one is 26, is that young any more?) people. Their chats are rendered visually, creating a fast moving story that allows each to explain their challenges, share their high moments and receive support in their low points.
But you can only do so much online and when Brigid enters her crisis, Priya decides rot test just what she can do, pinches her mum's car, and heads over to help out...
There are then two main threads of story. the evolving relationship between the two young women which is great to follow. Their experiences have left both of them vulnerable and simply "having been in a bad place" isn't, it really isn't, enough for them to get everything about each other. "I understand", one may say, to someone else, but can you, can you really? O'Neal's too wise to simply say "these two people help each other and everything is fine from then on". It isn't. it can't be. But you do sense that they are trying.
The other thread - and the two cross of course - is the Thing that is Brigid's problem. What can I say here? I don't want to spoil anyone, but the book's title... and that cover... may be pretty big clues. Let's just say, Brigid has problems with a part of herself that she doesn't welcome. That's also true for the other members of the group, of course, but there are... aspects... of Brigid's situation that mark her as different. Dangers that her situation poses, to others. And risks she runs, if the truth becomes known. So the story follows a roller coaster of peril, rescue and risk, comedic at times (once Spencer comes on the scene, he, Brigid and Priya make a fun triple act), scary at others and always, always, providing a thoughtful commentary on difference, acceptance and growth.
It's often not easy. There are some furious flare-ups and some hard truths to face.
But it's, in the best sense, a story of change and discovery.
Overall a really fun book, one with real heart. I'd recommend. (In a time when many are enduring and coping with the still poorly understood long covid, I think a bit of representation of those living with chronic illness may be rather timely).
|Design by Jo Thomson|
For more information about Hummingbird Salamander, see the publisher's website here.
|Cover design |
by Lauren Panepinto
I'm grateful to Corylus Books for providing me with a free advance copy of Silenced to consider for review - and for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.
Silenced follows The Fox, in which we met Guðgeir Fransson, a detective with the Reykjavík police who was under a cloud and waiting for a decision on the future of his career (and also, his marriage). Now Guðgeir is back in Reykjavík and while he's not got his old job back (that role is held by his former protégé Særós) he is playing a useful part in investigations, at the same time as he and his wife move from a house that clearly holds painful memories.
That move brings Guðgeir across the path of Andrea Eythórsdóttir, a young social media influencer (I really enjoyed seeing Guðgeir grapple with that idea!) whose brother vanished twenty years before. Andrea is pretty traumatised by the whole thing and taking to the bottle, and Guðgeir begins to look into the case. He has barely got started however when he's called away to investigate the apparent suicide, in prison, of another young woman - swiftly followed by the first in a series of particularly brutal rapes.
Silenced has, as you'll have gathered, some dark themes. Like The Fox, it exposes patriarchal violence against, and control of, women and a content warning would be in order for the book since there are some frank (though not gratuitous) accounts of what happens. Pálsdóttir expertly weaves together a number of strands: Andrea, who as I have said, is herself troubled; her somewhat haughty family; Kristín, the young woman who died in prison and whose earlier life is seen both in flashbacks and in the words of a friend; and Guðgeir's own life, back on track but about to be upset when his student daughter announces that she is pregnant. I liked the way that Pálsdóttir then has Guðgeir reflect on that - on the extent to which the boyfriend may or may not become involved in parenting, on the childhoods and life chances of the people he meets as part of the investigation, especially the Eythórsdóttir children, and on his own earlier life. There's a sense of Iceland being a small place where paths cross often with different characters having attended the same college at different times, for example, as well as that closeness still allowing goodness knows what to happen in some families, unsuspected by those outside.
In contrast to all this exploration of human nature, I also enjoyed the sense of Guðgeir settling back into a familiar place, in contrast to his life as seen in The Fox where he was out of his element.
Which only makes it all the more disturbing, of course, when the attacks on women begin to mount and the team need to react and track down the perpetrator. That procedural aspect of the story makes this also an excellent book if seen primarily as a mystery (I did work out what was happening before the end) and I like the fact that, while dealing with very serious crimes, neither this book nor its predecessor give the centrality to murder that one so often finds in crime.
The translation by Quentin Bates is clear and strikes a good balance between keeping the setting and atmosphere clear - this is obviously Iceland! - and leaving the reader to puzzle over details or references with which they may be unfamiliar.
An excellent addition to a series that I am looking forward to following.
About the Author
Sólveig Pálsdóttir trained as an actor and has a background in the theatre, television and radio. In a second career she studied for degrees in literature and education, and has taught literature and linguistics, drama and public speaking, and has produced both radio programming and managed cultural events.
Her first novel appeared in Iceland in 2012 and went straight to the country’s bestseller list. She has written five novels featuring Reykjavík detective Guðgeir Fransson and a memoir, Klettaborgin, which was a 2020 hit in Iceland.
Silenced (Fjötrar) received the 2020 Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic novel of the year and is Iceland’s nomination for the 2021 Glass key award for the best Nordic crime novel of the year.
Sólveig lives in Reykjavík.
For more information about Silenced, see the publisher's website here (including buy links) and the stops on the blogtour, listed on the poster below.