The Drowned Boy by Karin Fossum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"There's a lot you don't know."
I do have "a thing" for Karin Fossum's prose and have rated several of her novels with five stars. I love that she writes about everyday matters and captures the extraordinary meanings of completely ordinary, everyday events. She teaches us the truth and beauty of little things using narration closer to a whisper than to a scream. She is a serious mystery writer who has not yet succumbed to the allure of commercialism. While The Drowned Boy is certainly not Ms. Fossum's best book I still like it a lot.
Inspector Sejer is called by Jacob Skarre to the scene of an accident. Carmen, a very young mother, found her sixteen-month-old boy drowned in a pond. Despite Carmen's and her young husband's lifesaving efforts the boy dies. Neither Skarre nor Sejer are certain what exactly happened as Carmen's version of the accident does not quite ring true. Yet it is not the mystery of the boy's death that provides the main narrative axis of the plot, but the moral and ethical questions raised by Ms. Fossum. When making momentous decisions should we follow our moral standards or are obligations to other people more important? And an even tougher question: when a honestly reasoned decision happens to be the most convenient one, is it still OK to follow it?
I'd rather Ms. Fossum did not solve the mystery of what happened to the boy; the resolution is based on an awkward literary device - a diary that is way too erudite considering its author. On the other hand I like the in-your-face artifice of the denouement: the author makes it patently clear that there should not be a solution and one is provided only because it is expected by readers. This is one of the main reasons I love Ms. Fossum's novels: she does not really care about the "story" - she cares about her characters instead. Another major reason of my attraction is that Ms. Fossum never judges her characters but tries to understand them instead.
This is not a book for younger readers (meaning below 40, 50 or 60, whatever one's definition of "young" is). For instance, Inspector Sejer suffers bouts of dizziness and, of course, worries about brain tumor. This provides a lighter counterpoint to the serious main thread, but to me, a true geezer, it is clear that the author is one of us, the 60+ crowd, who have "been there, done that."
I have a problem with the translation by Kari Dickson (she did not translate any of the other novels by Ms. Fossum that I have read). The sentences, especially the dialogues sometimes sound unnatural and the prose does not sound right. For instance, someone roughly estimates the distance to be 165 feet. Yes, 50 meters is 165 feet, but no one would use such an exact number in a conversation.
Flawed yet wonderful read.
Three and three quarter stars.
View all my reviews