Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Drowned by Therese Bohman
Originally published in Swedish as Den drunknade by Norstedts in 2010
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Other Press, May 22, 2012 
Paperback - 224 pages
ISBN-13:  9781590515242   

Drowned, set in the idyllic countryside during a short-lived Swedish summer, gets under one’s skin from the first page, creating an atmosphere of foreboding in which even the perfume of freshly picked vegetables roasting in the kitchen becomes ominous.
   On the surface, the story couldn’t be simpler. A single young woman visits her older sister, who is married to a writer as charismatic as he is violent. As the young woman falls under her brother-in-law’s spell, the plot unfolds in a series of precisely rendered turns. Meanwhile the reader, anticipating the worst, hopes against hope that disaster can be averted.
   More than a mere thriller, this debut novel delves deep into the feminine soul and at the same time exposes the continuing oppression of women in Sweden’s supposedly enlightened society. Mixing hothouse sensuality with ice-cold fear on every page, Drowned heralds the emergence of a major new talent on the international scene.
My Thoughts:

Drowned by Therese Bohman is a literary novel and atmospheric psychological thriller. As the description says, the basic story in Drowned  is deceptively simple. A young woman from Stockholm, Marina, visits her older sister, Stella. Stella, a horticulturist, lives in the countryside with Gabriel, a charismatic older man who is a writer. Marina finds herself attracted to Gabriel, but also seems to sense something dark and surreal about her sister's seemingly idyllic life. The novel itself is much more complex than the simple story would indicate. 

The tone of Drowned is ominous and threatening right from the start. Even though the first part of the novel is set in the summer and there is lots of talk about the heat, the garden, the flowers, I still felt a shiver up my spine. There are so many undercurrents of conflicting emotions and things left unsaid that the suspense was building as I anticipated that something was dreadfully wrong and questioned what was really happening. There are small clues carefully introduced as the novel progresses that help make the conclusion very satisfying for me.

Due to be released on May 22, 2012, I felt that this translation of Drowned done by Marlaine Delargy (who also translated The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, another novel I enjoyed), was very well written. It is a short novel that leaves a big impact. Although some readers may find the extensive descriptions exhausting to read,  I Highly Recommended it.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Other Press and Netgalley for review purposes.

(Location numbers from my Kindle are used in lieu of page numbers)

The train is exactly on time as it pulls into the platform. My whole body feels listless as I stand up and get my bag down from the luggage rack above the window. There’s something wrong with my seat, with the mechanism that’s supposed to stop the backrest when you’ve reclined it into the position you want. I’ve been pushed backwards every time the train has accelerated, and several times during the journey I have woken up and discovered that I am practically lying down. opening

She already has her own bag to carry, a brown leather purse that looks expensive. Her entire look is expensive; she’s wearing a beige skirt and a chalkwhite blouse, she looks clean and crisp, as if her clothes have been hung out to dry in the wind coming off the sea, starched by the salt in the air so they didn’t even need ironing. Small pearl studs gleam in her ears. I feel dusty, and the sweets have left a stale taste in my mouth. I would like to brush my teeth. Location 30-34

Gabriel is still busy with the salad when I get back to the kitchen, he is slicing radishes very thinly. “Your sister’s gone to get changed,” he says. I nod.
“Can I do anything?”
“No, it’s almost ready. Besides which, this is your welcome dinner . . . so all you have to do is feel welcome.” He smiles. “Can I get you anything? Something to drink?”
Suddenly I realize I’m thirsty. I should have cleaned my teeth, my mouth still feels sweet and sticky. Location 58-61

“I’ve still got a few points left from the spring semester. I haven’t done my assignment yet.”
Stella nods. “Presumably you have to do that before the start of the fall semester?”
She nods again. Location 86-87

“So how do you like living in Stockholm?” Gabriel asks.
“Not much, to be honest.”
“Neither did I.”
“You used to live in Stockholm?”
“Indeed I did. For quite a long time.”
We talk about Stockholm for a while, and I tell him about the apartment I’m renting as a sublet, the very thought of it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable as I remember its particular level of oppressive stuffiness on sunny days. Location 128-132

Suddenly Stella is standing in the doorway with a cardigan over her nightdress. “Could you turn the music down a little?” she says. “I need to get some sleep.” Her tone of voice is pleasant, but I can sense an underlying irritation. Stella isn’t as good at hiding her feelings as she thinks she is, I realized that a long time ago. I wonder if Gabriel has realized it too.
“Of course,” he says. “Sorry, darling.”
I get up from the sofa. Location 164-167 

“God, it’s so hot,” is the first thing she says. “How can you stand wearing those?” She nods in the direction of my jeans. “I’m fine.”
“Shall we see if we can find you a skirt?”
“Why not?”
I sigh, suddenly remembering how stubborn she can be, even though she doesn’t appear to notice it herself. “I’ve brought a dress with me, I just didn’t want to wear it today, that’s all.”
She nods and seems to give in. Location 184-187

I haven’t slept well even though I’ve slept late, in fact I haven’t slept well since I arrived. It’s an uneasy sleep, I wake up several times during the night, and in between I sleep so deeply that I feel disorientated when I do wake up. I think I start to dream as soon as I get into bed and close my eyes. The air in the room is bad, even though I keep the windows open all day and all evening; I think maybe there’s something in the walls, or in the foundations. Mold, something wrong. Location 203-206

I read it quickly, the way I read most things in those days, a kind of binge reading aimed at getting through as many books as possible, shoveling down as many as I could in order to tick them off against a list in my head. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have much else to do during those years; with a significant number of books behind me, I could at least feel as if I had used the time for something sensible. I have only vague memories of Gabriel’s novel but I do remember that I liked it, I remember a cloying sense of love bordering on obsession that was so well written I felt as if I had experienced it myself. Location 306-311

“They come by sometimes just to check things out. Make sure everything’s okay.”
“What do you mean, make sure everything’s okay?”
“That’s what people do in the country,” she says, sounding slightly irritated. “When it’s a long way between neighbors. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?” She looks at me, her expression challenging.
“No, of course not.” Location 322-325

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