Monday, October 08, 2007

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson


I found this book at my local library on display in the 1st Novel Collection. That’s one of the features of the library that I really appreciate. Sometime I must write a post about why I love libraries so much.

I’d never heard of Linda Olsson before and didn’t know what to expect, but the first sentences drew me effortlessly into the story:

“There had been wind and drifting snow during her journey, but as darkness fell, the wind died and the snow settled.

It was the first day of March. She had driven to Stockholm in the gradually deepening dusk that seamlessly became night. It had been a slow journey, but it had given her time to think. Or erase thoughts.”

This sets the scene – it’s coming to the end of winter and there is the promise of spring. Veronika, a young writer, has come to live near a small village in the Swedish countryside. Her only close neighbour is Astrid, who is an elderly recluse. From this opening it’s obvious that Veronika is troubled, needing to sort out her thoughts. There is a mystery too concerning Astrid’s past and she too is troubled by her memories. At first she does not respond to Veronika’s tentative efforts to get to know her, although she watches Veronika as she walks passed Astrid's house on her way to the village. When she hasn’t seen Veronika for a few days and there is no sign of life coming from the house this disturbs her and she finds herself knocking on Veronika’s door. Veronika is ill and Astrid, unused to any social contact looks after her. And so, slowly, their friendship begins and gradually they confide in each other as the year moves from spring into summer.

Astrid reveals how she struggled as a child after her mother left her and her father; the troubled relationship with her father; and how she realised that she had married a man she didn’t love. Veronika eventually reveals the circumstances surrounding her relationship with James, a New Zealander she was living with after leaving her Swedish boyfriend, as she helps Astrid cope with visiting her dying husband, who she hasn’t seen since he was taken into a rest-home.

I liked this book, for the way the secrets of the two women’s lives are gradually revealed as their friendship deepens. It kept my interest throughout, as I wanted to know what had happened to Astrid and Veronika in the past. I think the turning point for Astrid was when she was sixteen and had found a special place in the forest, high in the hills above the village. It was here that she found a clearing where wild strawberries grew and where she met her first and only love, Lars. Lars was killed in a farming accident and Astrid buried her memories of him, until she told Veronika about him. She tells Veronika:

“It is in the nature of things to change. Nothing can last beyond its given time. … I wish now that I had held on to the memories of that summer. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if I had. Instead I allowed what came before and what came after to overshadow it. I should have cared for it, the way I cared for my strawberry patch. Allowed it to develop new growth, new fruit. But perhaps they are one and the same, the strawberry patch and the memories of that summer. Finally retrieved.”

For Veronika, it’s a time to put her life back together again. She says she has never understood time:

“Memories seem to surface in no particular order, with no time attached. Yesterday can seem as distant as last year. … My life now consists of fragments … where some are so blinding in their intensity that they make everything else indistinguishable. … It feels as if my existence was extinguished in a flash, and afterwards my universe became incomprehensible. … I want to remember everything. But perhaps I need to give it more time. Allow myself some rest. Distance myself a little, to see if I can make out a pattern. And face the truth about what is really there.”

The past, the nature of memories and time and above all the importance of love are themes that are explored in this novel. It’s a story that lingers in my memory.

6 comments:

jenclair said...

I like the way this one sounds and will look for it at the library. The Swedish setting and a friendship that connects different generations -- both are appealing.

StuckInABook said...

What a good idea for a display in the library - a first novel shelf. Great idea, actually, and will get new authors read. Don't think it would work so well in the Science Library I'm working in.

Gentle Reader said...

I've been hearing about this book, but hadn't read a review yet. Thanks for your review--I'm putting this on my list!

Nan - said...

Beautifully written review, and I like the quotes you used.

Melody said...

Great review. I have read this book and enjoyed it!

Linda said...

I am the author of 'Astrid and Veronika'. I am not sure why I am here. I probably shouldn't be. Authors are supposed to be silent inbetween their book, I think. But I just wanted to say what joy it was to see my book feature on your blog. It has been a very hesitant journey in the UK, and one that I have only followed from a distance. So, I suppose I just wanted to say thank so vey much.

Linda, writing from Auckland where summer just seems to have become stuck and my poor fig tree dropped its leaves and sprouted new ones straigth away. Not a good sign I think. We all need breaks.