Book review: Drowned, by Therese Bohman

17 08 2017

Therese Bohman is a Swedish editor, columnist, and author. She has written three novels to date, and her work has been shortlisted for the Nordic Council Literature Prize and the August Prize.

Drowned

Drowned (Den drunknade, 2010, translated by Marlaine Delargy) is Bohman’s debut novel. Marina, a disaffected student of art theory, is visiting the Swedish-countryside home of her older sister Stella, a public-space gardener, and her author partner Gabriel. The summertime visit is marked by stifling heat and by the evident sexual tension that develops between Marina and the substantially older Gabriel; Stella, who shows no sign of having noticed the intrigue between her partner and her sister, seems brusque and somewhat unwelcoming towards Marina. Then Stella drowns in a nearby lake.

Drowned unfolds slowly; it seems to linger over every observation, obsessed with scent, with feel, with memory. It’s written with a distracting tendency to run-on-sentences, commas used in places a full stop would serve perfectly naturally—and as a writer who (I’m informed) myself tends towards such habits, I might be considered to be more nearly impervious to such distraction than other, more disciplined readers. It is, though, quite wonderfully lyrical, and if you can negotiate past the pacing and the sentence structure, you may just find yourself mesmerised. Marina is an interesting narrator—pensive, intuitive, slightly self-absorbed—and Stella and Gabriel are shown in sporadically intimate detail while remaining innately mysterious. The book is in no hurry to release key information: it’s several pages before we actually learn Marina’s name; a dozen, significantly later in the book, before we learn explicitly of Stella’s death—though by that time we’ve already known, for several pages, merely from the state of her garden, that she’s gone.

A tone that is both vivid and indistinct, that makes no pretense at being able to lay out definitively what has happened, won’t mesh with every reader; it is, in some respects, the antithesis of the crime novel, which at least offers resolution at its close. But it intrigued me, and I think it will stay with me for quite some time.

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