Review Blog

Jul 15 2019

A nearly normal family by M. T. Edvardsson

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Macmillan, 2019. ISBN: 9781529008135.
(Age: senior secondary to adult) Recommended. Themes: Sweden, Crime, Family. The Sandell family seems to have it all. Adam is a pastor in the Church of Sweden, Ulrika is a successful lawyer and their daughter Stella is a vibrant student and athlete. There have been the usual ups and downs, as there are with families, but they are looked on by other residents in the small provincial city of Lund as a model of success.
Things take a lurch into the unexpected and unknown when Stella is taken into custody for the murder of Christopher Olsen. The story unfolds from the points of view of Adam, Ulrika and Stella and gives very different insight into each individual and the dynamics of this 'ideal' family.
Adam's recount is the first, and as a reader, I found this man hard to empathise with. His interference with the case and distrust of the lawyer defending Stella began to annoy me so much I almost gave up on the book. It was Stella's account that turned things round. Her character formed by the narrative of her father gave the impression of a selfish, spoiled teenager full of angst and rebellion. As her side of the story is slowly and at times reluctantly revealed an empathy is developed. Her strong friendship with Amina is at the centre of the web of emotion and loyalty which Edvardsson brings to life.
Stella who is 18 at the time of the murder has been involved with Christopher Olsen an older man at 32. Chris is a wealthy, successful businessman the son of a professor of law at the local university. There is some uneasiness about his treatment of women when it is discovered a former girl friend, Linda Lokind, has made a complaint to the police about Olsen. The investigation came to nothing and its Linda's reputation and state of mind which has come into question.
The final voice is that of Stella's mother Ulrika. It is the shortest narrative but one which gives the greatest insight and perhaps shows the greatest understanding of Stella and of Amina.
The Sandell family was not the one any of its members wanted. Adam wanted a perfect image projected to his congregation as a reflection of his role as loving father and husband. He is a controller and in the end not open with Stella or Ulrika. Stella is a complex character and she feels guilty about her behaviour and reactions to her parents but is unable to express them. She has many secrets she keeps from her family and even some from Amina. Ulrika feels guilt being the working mother working away from her family so often, but also feeling excluded from the bond which Adam and Stella formed as a baby and into her childhood. She too has secrets.
This novel was involving not least from the dynamics of the family, but also the community in which they live. The Swedish police and judicial system is an interesting contrast to the US or British with which we are far more familiar. Edvardsson's resolution is not entirely unexpected, but the master mind behind it all is more of a surprise.
Mark Knight

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