Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

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Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A tense courtroom drama, intelligently questioning much about how modern society operates.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471160325

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Is there something about Scandinavia, that makes its inhabitants identify with quicksand? This is the second book with the same title by northern writers that I've read this year, and we're only into April. For clarity from the outset, this has nothing to do with Henning Mankell's conversational memoir reviewed elsewhere on here, but we are back in territory he would probably have been familiar with. We're in a Scandinavian courtroom, Swedish to be precise – we're about to begin the trial of Maja Norberg.

Maja, a normal happy girl-next-door eighteen year old: assuming of course that your 'next door' is the affluent neighbourhood of Djursholm – the wealthiest community in Sweden if the internet is to be believed. She was popular, worked hard, did well at school, loved her later arrival baby sister, tolerated her parents in the well-meaning, slightly condescending way of teenagers everywhere and naturally had a totally best friend, Amanda. They'd grown up together, were confirmed together, did just about everything together. Until now.

Now Maja is on trial for murder. Mass murder. Bodies littered her school room on what should have been the happy last day of term. Amanda is one of the dead. As is Sebastian, Maja's mega-rich boyfriend. Maja does not deny shooting either Amanda or Sebastian, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have a defence. She also has the best defence lawyer that money could buy.

Everything in life was wonderful until Sebastian arrived on the scene. Having failed his final year, he was held back to re-sit so that (in theory) he could graduate and not shame the family name. The family name matters because Sebastian is Claes Fagerman's son. Officially the richest and most powerful man in Sweden (through his business interests not political ones – but it's money that matters these days isn't it), Claes is superficially charming. His son takes after him that far. Maybe his son takes after him more than either of them know, certainly Claes has no time for his younger child, this unsuccessful, dilettante, black sheep. The elder son is studying, doing what's expected. The mother seems to be a.w.o.l. No-one talks about her. And because, after all, these are the Fagermans no-one asks.

Charm. Money. So far, so good. Privilege buys you the best parties and everyone will come. There are echoes of Gatsby in the pool-house and the waterfront, though the drugs are more obvious, and the fracture-lines in familial relationships equally more visible. Society has moved on too. The inequalities are greater.

And so in some places is the pretence.

This world is only just a step removed from Maja's – but it is a step, and when she takes it, when she becomes Sebastian's girlfriend, she has no idea what it is going to lead to.

Or does she?

The thing is: we only have her word for any of this. Quicksand is Maja's story. After the schoolroom snapshot we meet her on the first day of her trial. She is the one who tells us how it progresses. How boring it is listening to the lawyers running through stuff again and again. How hard it is not to giggle, if only as a hysterical response.

It is her view of the courtroom we see. It is her interpretation of the days and nights in jail that we wait through. And ultimately it is only her view of what happened from her first meeting with Sebastian and the schoolroom bloodshed that we are privy to. The prosecution have her down as a co-conspirator at the very least. The press have her convicted already. Her best friend is dead. Her boyfriend is dead. Even her parents don't seem to be saying very much in support. Maja wants, desperately wants, to tell her story but her defence lawyer – the best in Sweden – keeps reminding her that certain facts are not judicially relevant. Why does he want these things kept quiet. Are there specific questions he doesn't want asked and why might that be?

Quicksand is tautly written, keeping to teen-speak without over-doing it (a testament I suspect to both the author and the translator) it portrays Maja as an intelligent independent young woman. But also a confused and frightened one. The book itself is also intelligent in the way it looks at society and the way it questions what we mean by guilt and innocence. On the surface it is a courtroom drama, we know very early on who shot who – the questions are around the detail, precisely how, in what order, and why. And whether or not that makes any difference.

It is tense. The title comes from something Maja herself says, but reading it is like walking across quicksand, not knowing what to believe, not to believe and at what point the firm foundation that you've built your views on will shift and leave you slipping away.

This is ex-lawyer Giolito's fourth novel, the first to be translated into English, and one feels it's only a matter of time before it makes it to screen. Read it now, before you have your pleasure filtered by some-else's interpretation.

The Henning Mankell Memoir Quicksand is highly recommended, but staying with dark tales of northern youth we can also recommend At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura.

Buy Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito at Amazon.com.


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