Depths by Henning Mankell

From TheBookbag
Jump to navigationJump to search

Depths by Henning Mankell

Buy Depths by Henning Mankell at or

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A tense psychological thriller from the man who writes the Inspector Kurt Wallander police-procedural novels is highly recommended by Bookbag. It's exquisitely crafted and delves into the psyche of the unbalanced mind.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 10099542196

Share on: Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn

In the rest of Europe World War I has started but Sweden is still neutral despite her German sympathies. Lars Tobiasson-Svartman is a naval engineer charged with the task of measuring the depth of the sea in the Swedish archipelago to find speedier navigable channels. This isn't just a job - it's an obsession for Tobiasson-Svartman, whose ambition is to find a depth that can't be measured. The act of measuring is an obsession for him - he's constantly measuring the distances between himself and other people. Death seems to follow him around; there are three whilst he's making his first series of soundings, including the captain of the ship.

His wife is at home in Stockholm. Lars believes that he loves her, but isn't close to her in any way. Sometimes his dominant emotion is annoyance that she never drops any of her collection of china figurines. He writes letters to Kristina which he knows are full of nothing. Despite all this he has no thought of being unfaithful to her until he lands on a remote skerry, thinking it to be uninhabited and encounters Sara Fredrika. She's living wild in a tumbledown cottage and becomes his next obsession.

Tobiasson-Svartman (he added the 'Tobiasson' himself to put some distance between his first name and his father's name) is a pathological liar as well as being weak and cowardly. He's prone to sudden bursts of violence against people and animals and they shock him as much as the reader. The book charts the tragic story of what happens to him and to those around him, but most of all it's about the relationships between Lars, Kristina and Sara.

I read this book because I'm a big fan of Henning Mankell's Inspector Wallander novels. For the most part they're police-procedurals, but lifted to the top of the genre by Mankell's ability to evoke the landscape and climate of rural Sweden without resorting to long descriptive passages. Here he does the same for the capital city, Stockholm, the Swedish villages and the sea of the archipelago. The description of a trek across the ice which Lars makes to reach Sara in the depths of winter is chilling and compelling. Mankell has taken some liberties with geography and with some of the ships which feature in the story but the shading between reality and invention is invisible.

The phrase 'tense psychological thriller' is used too easily by publishers with the result that it doesn't really convey the suspense of this book. It's a gripping examination of an unbalanced mind and its descent into madness. You suspect the inevitability of what will happen, but it's impossible to do other than read on. It's a book that stays with you: I finished it some days ago and I've almost read another book in the meantime, but this book is fresher in my mind and more vivid than the book I'm currently reading.

It's difficult to warm to Lars. He's self-absorbed and completely without conscience, but he's totally believable. Knowing that you wouldn't do what he does, there's never a point at which you believe that he could act in any other way. He lacks any consideration for other people, property or even life itself. Unusually for a male author the two women - Kristina and Sara - are equally strong and well-drawn. The aristocratic Kristina is self-sufficient and resilient, but is still broken by Lars. I warmed most to Sara who has survived on the barren island since the death of her husband and who never quite believes in Lars:

He continued to balance on the invisible borderline between her worry and her trust.

The book is a translation from the original Swedish by Laurie Thompson who has also translated many of the Inspector Wallander novels for which Mankell is best known. His translation produces some lyrical, evocative prose which it would be difficult to better. Depths is something of a departure for Mankell, but judging by the quality of this book I expect and hope to see more in a similar vein.

If you think you would enjoy this book you might also enjoy The Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard or Daniel by Henning Mankell.

This book was sent to Bookbag by the publishers, Harvill Secker.

Please share on: Facebook Facebook, Follow us on Twitter Twitter and Follow us on Instagram Instagram

Buy Depths by Henning Mankell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Depths by Henning Mankell at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Depths by Henning Mankell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Depths by Henning Mankell at


Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.