During my lunch break, I ventured to the maypole to watch the midsommar performance. Students dressed in traditional costume were dancing. While I was watching, someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to see Mia, not dressed in white with flowers in her hair, as she had been on the beach, but holding a plastic refuse bag, picking up rubbish. She told me she’d specifically requested the job since she had no desire to dress up and be stared at…
I gently took hold of Mia’s arm and guided her centre stage, calling everyone together. Improvising, I began talking about the history of the midsommar festival. With the entire party gathered around me, including Håkan, I explained how this was the night of the year when magic was strongest in Sweden, how our great-grandparents would dance as a fertility ritual to impregnate the earth and bring full harvests to the farms.
observations: I wanted to like this book, and was confident that I would. I haven’t read his earlier trilogy of thrillers set in the Soviet Union, but at least one of them – like this book – got rave reviews from people I trust. This one was an easy read, and quite compelling, but I was hoping for something more like literary fiction, and it didn’t fall into that category.
Narrator Daniel gets an unexpected phonecall from his deeply distressed father: his parents went to live in Sweden a year earlier, and now the mother (who is Swedish) is deeply disturbed, has mental health issues. The mother discharges herself from a mental hospital, comes to London and tries to convince her son that it is she who is sane: she makes serious accusations against her husband and some new friends he has made in their new home village in a remote part of Sweden.
An enticing setup, anyone would agree. Most of the book consists of Daniel listening to a monologue from his mother about their move to Sweden and what happened there. She has a bag containing notes, journals and bits of paper that she considers to be evidence to support her case. Daniel and the reader have to try to decide where the truth lies.
But then – it’s written so the reader can look at what the mother says and think ‘maybe that’s as she describes, but it could equally well be X.’ It’s all like that, and that became wearisome. And in the end the reader is thinking ‘So we’re constantly told, it’s her or him telling the truth, one of the other’ – and that isn’t very interesting, not over a whole book – ‘but, oh, I’ve read books before. Maybe it’s not going to be that simple. So what might it be?’ I did not find anything much about the ending surprising, other than the fact that a few things were unexplained – the mushrooms?
A quick holiday read, but not more than that for me: the writing was pedestrian to the point of being childish, apart from some hammered-home symbolism, and for example Daniel’s homelife, and the fact that he had never told his parents he was gay, didn’t really feature at all, except apparently to show they were a family with secrets.
The pictures of midsummer celebrations come from the Swedish Heritage Board.
For a varied selection of previous midsummer entries - Bridget Jones, Stig of the Dump and others - click on the label below.