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Wednesday, 24 June 2020

#BookReview A SUMMER OF DROWNING by JOHN BURNSIDE #20BooksOfSummer20


A terrifying and dream-like new novel from one of our greatest contemporary writers.
At a critical point in her career, painter Angelika Rossdal suddenly moves to Kvaloya, a small island deep in the Arctic Circle, to dedicate herself to the solitary pursuit of her craft. With her, she brings her young daughter, Liv, who grows up isolated and unable or unwilling to make friends her own age, spending much of her time alone, or with an elderly neighbour, Kyrre Jonsson, who beguiles her with old folk tales and stories about trolls, mermaids and -- crucially for the events that unfold in the summer of her eighteenth year -- about the huldra, a wild spirit who appears in the form of an irresistibly beautiful girl, to lure young men to their doom.
Now twenty-eight, Liv looks back on her life and particularly to that summer when two boys drowned under mysterious circumstances in the still moonlit waters off the shores of Kvaloya. Were the deaths accidental, or were the boys, as Kyrre believes, lured to their deaths by a malevolent spirit? To begin with, Liv dismisses the old man's stories as fantasy, but as the summer continues and events take an even darker turn, she comes to believe that something supernatural is happening on the island. But is it? Or is Liv, a lonely girl who has spent her entire life in the shadow of her beautiful, gifted mother, slowly beginning to lose touch with reality?
Set in the white nights of an Arctic summer, the novel has the heightened, hallucinogenic atmosphere of a dream, but culminates in a moment of profound horror. Intensely imagined and exquisitely written, A Summer of Drowning is a play of dark and light, of looking and seeing, that will hold and haunt every reader.


This was Book 5 of my 20 Books of Summer 2020.

What a dark and fascinating book! The start has instant impact on and just whets your appetite for finding out more about the odd goings on in an isolated place in Norway. And the story centres around the observations of Liv who lives there with her mother. Liv is a quiet loner, happy to observe the goings on and often left to her own devices. But she revels in the solitude and is fascinated by the behaviour of others.

When 2 brothers die in the same way, the events rock the town and lots of whispers begin about what may have happened. The events of that summer changed everything for everyone. There has always been whispers of a presence amongst them, but often dismissed, but the more Liv sees the more she starts to wonder if the stories she has been told are real.

There is a real sense of uncertainty throughout this book - from the perspective of Liv, the behaviours of other characters - but what remains the same is the isolation of the village and what effect that has on those living there.

It also explores the impact that family complexities have on a character and their outlook on the world. LIv is very much like her mother in some respects, preferring her own company, but often looking for something more from others.

I did find myself having more questions than answers by the end of the book, but still found it to be a really evocative and impressive read.


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