Thursday, July 17, 2008
Bleak families: Inger Frimansson's sequel
The Shadow in the Water is the sequel to Swedish crime writer Inger Frimansson's disturbing Good Night My Darling, published in the U.S. last year. The body count is lower in the sequel, but the menacing atmosphere remains. The Shadow in the Water includes murder, suspicious police, kidnapping, assault, and even a haunting, nameless pet raven (plus the natural world as mostly an antagonist rather than a haven), but the book is oddly hopeful, leading to something like redemption. Frimansson is interested in the psychological effects of violence, not just in the immediate aftermath but in following years. The surviving characters from the earlier book are 6 years older, around 50 now, and they're joined by new lovers as well as descendants of some of those who didn't survive the first book. Good Night My Darling moved back and forth in time as well as among the characters, but The Shadow in the Water mostly moves back and forth among the minds of a diverse group of characters: Justine (the seriously troubled soul at the center of the first book), Jill (whose best friend died in the first book), Micke (whose father died in the first book), Tor (whose wife died in the first book), as well as Justine's lover and his associates at the hotel where he works. In all, the point of view is splintered among about 7 voices. All of them miserable to some extent, but their misery is enveloped in a sense of threat rather than gloom, threat being much more interesting for a reader than gloom. Violence lurks behind each of the characters, each of whom is damaged in his or her own way. Jill, perhaps the most normal of them, is the stable center of the novel: she is less marked by guilt than her dead friend Berit, though both of them tormented Justine when they were schoolgirls, and Jill's job is portrayed in a very interesting way (she's a sort of boat-traffic-controller on the lakes and canals around Stockholm). Jill is leading Tor toward something like acceptance of the disappearance of Berit (only Justine knows she's dead). But each of the other characters moves toward dealing with psychic damage and pain. At several points, Frimansson remarks on the fact that the presumably weaker member of a couple is actually the stronger, a sentiment and a word that recalls a short play, The Stronger, by Strindberg, the great Swedish playwright. But where Strindberg's point is based in gender resentment (embodied in the male character in his play), Frimansson sees the contradiction in the stronger/weaker dichotomy in more positive terms (a marker of the distance we've traveled since Strindberg's day). I have to assume that Frimansson intends for us to reflect on gender roles in general and Strindberg in particular--not to mention that Strindberg disciple, Ingmar Bergman, with whom Frimansson shares a reliance on psychological distress for dramatic effect. But The Shadow in the Water, while hardly comic, reaches for the succor of ordinary life in the face of extraordinary stress and pain: Where Good Night My Darling erupts in weirdness and violence, The Shadow in the Water observes the outer edges of violence and weirdness and the human capacity to achieve something like normalcy, through age, through the ordinariness of daily life, and even through further violence. It's an oddly enthralling novel, leading the reader to a point rather different from where we expected to be going, and rather different from that of the average crime novel.