The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Later, she would never forget this. The last moment when life was good."
I had read Karin Fossum's The Indian Bride (2000) for the first time about 10 years ago, long before Kat helped me find Goodreads. Totally swept off my feet by the sheer emotional impact of the story I was unable to notice some weaknesses of the novel and decided it was a masterpiece of psychological crime genre. This time no five stars from me despite the fact that Ms. Fossum's writing resonates with my sensibilities like very few other authors' work. I admire her quiet, economical, unpretentious prose, her obvious compassion toward people, even the worst criminals, and her quest for understanding motives of human actions. (For once the abused word "resonates" describes the situation precisely: I receive literature on the same frequencies that Ms. Fossum transmits in her novels.)
Gunder Jomann is a fiftyish farm equipment salesman in a Norwegian village. There is something off-center about him: he is slow - not intellectually but rather emotionally - deliberate, stolid but determined, and he has not been following any of the "normal" life paths. It is only now that he has decided on the kind of a woman he wants to marry - an Indian woman. So he travels to Mumbai, finds a woman he fancies, which happens to be the first woman he meets there, and since she likes him too they get married. Nothing can stop them now from living happily in Norway ever after. The story so far has all sweet qualities of a fairy tale, as if it were happening in a magical storybook reality. Alas, the actual reality intervenes, and extremely brutally so.
The story now turns into a tear-jerker, so very sad that even though I had read the book before I was crying again. Ms. Fossum masterfully relays the heartbreaking plot in a sorrowful yet unexaggerated, beautifully quiet prose. The highly melodramatic content is conveyed without making the readers feel that they are emotionally manipulated. There is not a single false note in the prose and I immediately identify with the pain and sorrow.
Technically, this is a crime novel, so we also have a murder, several suspects, and a police procedural thread. Inspectors Sejer and Skarre make their entrance quite early in the novel. The murder is brutal, and when the crime is recounted later in the novel, the story is so savage that I found it hard to read, even though I know this is fiction and even if we are not sure the events happened exactly the way they are told. Ms. Fossum's avoidance of hyperbole emphasizes the horror of what happened. Inspector Sejer is again shown at his trademark slow, patient questioning. One might come to a conclusion that detectives in Norway have too much time on their hands.
Both the beginning and ending of the novel are outstanding. A young man comes home and roughly play-fights with his Rottweiler. This one-page passage masterfully teases the readers with clues, making them think they are so smart to figure them out. I also love the ending, as unusual as it is: it defies the reader's expectations in wonderful ways, which is the best thing one can say about literature in any genre.
Alas, the passages about the village residents reacting to the crime and investigation are weak and "unFossum-like" in sounding fake. Also, the thread that features the over-eager witness overstays its welcome at some point (but I understand that publishers may have some business guidelines about the minimum volume of a crime novel). To sum up, it is almost a phenomenal book, damaged by few weak scenes. I loved re-reading it. I can read Ms. Fossum's writing forever and ever again.
Four and a quarter stars.
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