07 February 2017

Library Limelights 126

Camilla Grebe & Åsa Träff. More Bitter Than Death. 2010. UK: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2013.
Thoroughly absorbing! A murder witnessed by a child sets the first scene for what preceded and came after it. Clinical psychologists Siri and Aina are leading a small group of women in a self-help project; all victims of violence, they share their feelings in the hope of avoiding or reducing a lasting trauma. Each violated woman's experience is different, including Siri herself who survived a would-be killer. The individuals are well-drawn, even those peripheral to some of the women's stories. Events that follow the group's initial meetings are swift and surprising. Siri's boundless capacity for empathy with her clients contrasts sharply with her fear of intimacy in her private life.
Without melodrama or obvious clues, the plot moves smoothly through permutations of who the killer could be. There's literally a lot of sweat beading on foreheads. At some point the reader will come to understand the interspersed child reports. And the women will understand that abuse and violence are not their fault or their destiny. Siri's devoted lover Markus offsets the brutality of other men; we want her to wake up and smell the coffee. Her separate clients Mia and Patrik are in a domestic impasse a bit hard on the credibility, but then who are we to know what goes on in a shrink's office? Watching with great anticipation for more from this sister duo!

I'm a psychologist who's supposed to help other people take control of their lives, but I can't let go of my own past. (161-2)
"Love messes you up." (277)
I think about how love isn't always a beautiful, light feeling; sometimes it's a vicious beast: eternally on the prowl, always hungry, lurking at the edge of our existence, ready to take us down. (333)

Resolve, again:
"I care about you, too," I say. And it's not a lie. Because I do care about him, a lot. I just can't handle this suffocating togetherness between the two of us all the time.
"Thanks," he mumbles, and yawns.
And yet again I wonder: Thanks for what? For letting you be close to me? For letting you come inside me? Thanks because I haven't asked you to leave yet?
Outside there's the thunder of the waves as they break against the rocks, rhythmic, like his pulse.
I have to try.
For the hundredth time I promise myself that I will try to be the normal woman he wants, that he deserves. (51)

Bottom line:
As if he can hear what I am thinking, Vijay continues, "It's not as simple as you might think. The definition of violence against women is not clear-cut. It's not just about physical abuse in the home but about threats, psychological abuse, extreme control, underage marriage, conscious underfeeding of girls, checking their hymens. You know."
"So is there a common denominator?" Aina asks.
Vijay nods, runs his hand over the black stubble on his chin, which is becoming increasingly flecked with grey as the years go by. "Power," he says. "Power and control. That's always what it comes down to in the end." (119)

The lion:
"My own mother thought her boyfriend was ... more important than me."
"Oh, honey." Sirrka rubs her knees and shakes her head so that her thin red hair leaves her skinny shoulders for a moment. "Didn't you know that that was ... wrong? It's unnatural to do that to a child."
"Is it?" Sofie asks, looking at Sirrka. "Maybe the abuse is natural."
"What do you mean?" Sirrka looks genuinely confused.
"I mean ... I usually think it's like with the lion," Sofie says, her voice cracking.
"The lion?" Aina asks.
"Yeah, you know, when a male lion meets a new lioness, he always kills her young, because they belong to another male. I think that's probably pretty common. I'm not his, so he rejects me, you know? It's ... nature." (171)

Yasmina Khadra. The Attack. 2005. UK: First Anchor Books, 2007.
I likely wasn't quite ready for this after The Black Widow and still feeling shades of A Disappearance in Damascus. Living in Middle East countries with constant expectation of terrorism defies our senses but it behooves us to try understanding. A naturalized Israeli citizen of Bedouin origin, Amin Jaamar is a distinguished surgeon at a Tel Aviv hospital. His career path amidst a Jewish majority was and is beset with racial ostracism and indignities despite his secular, apolitical life. In their work, he and his colleagues are familiar with the devastating physical effects of terrorist attacks. Then a suicide bomber rips apart his life; the perpetrator was his own wife Sihem.

Stunned and disoriented by the evidence, Amin can only condemn his failure as a husband to notice any signs of her conversion to mujahideen. He feels bound to seek answers to his anguished Why? Now, the intolerance he daily lived with feels insignificant compared to the contempt lashed at him by fellow Arabs as he tries to reconstruct his wife's movements to destruction, to find the people who mentored her. Intifada militants lecture and denounce him for ignoring his roots. Bloody but undaunted, he eventually reaches Jenin, a Palestinian city in the West Bank and the area of his own tribal origins, where he is reunited with remaining family. Taking place at the time of the Second Intifada, the story is beautifully, beautifully written. Read it and weep. But read it.

I take my face in my hands and groan and groan until finally I begin shouting like a man possessed into the deafening roar of the waves. (52)
My tears may well have drowned a little of my sorrow, but my rage is still there, like a tumour buried deep inside me, or like a monster of the abyss, crouched in the darkness of its lair, waiting for the right moment to rise to the surface and terrify the world. (88)
"Every Jew in Palestine is a bit of an Arab, and no Arab in Israel can deny that he's a little Jewish." (242)
Our whole family history comes back to me at a gallop, as magnificent as a troop of mounted warriors on parade. (244)

But how do I put out these red-hot embers I've got burning holes in my guts? How can I look at myself in a mirror and not cover my face, with my self-esteem in shreds and this doubt that's still here, subverting my grief, despite what I know to be true? Ever since Captain Moshe released me to my own devices, I can't close my eyes without finding myself face-to-face with Sihem's smile. (125)

"You need a shrink, not a sheikh. Those people don't have to account to you for anything."
"They killed my wife."
"Sihem killed herself," Kim says softly, as though she's about to wake up my demons. "She knew what she was doing; she'd chosen her destiny. It's not the same thing."
Kim's words exasperate me. (143-4)

"I don't like the way you talk to me."
"There's a vast number of things you don't like, Doctor, but in my opinion, that fact does not exempt you from anything at all. I don't know who had charge of your education but of one thing I'm certain: You went to the wrong school. Furthermore, nothing authorizes you to put on this air of outrage or to place yourself above ordinary mortals―not your social success, and not your wife's brave deed, which, by the way, doesn't raise you a whit in our esteem. To me, you're nothing but a poor orphan, without faith and without salvation, wandering around like a sleepwalker in broad daylight. Even if you could walk on water, you couldn't erase the insult you represent. For the real bastard isn't the man who doesn't know his father; it's the man who doesn't know his tradition." (149-50)

Sihem's truth:
"She didn't hold a grudge against you for prizing so highly the honors you were showered with, but that wasn't the happiness she wanted to see in you; she found it a little indecent, a bit incongruous. It was as if you were firing up a barbecue in a burned-out yard. You saw only the barbecue; she saw the rest, the desolation all around, spoiling all delight. It wasn't your fault; all the same, she couldn't bear sharing your blindness anymore." (227)

Martin Edwards. The Coffin Trail. 2004. UK: Magna Large Print Books, 2005.
Back in cosy old England for a change. A cosy valley in the Lakes District where everyone cosily knows each other but no-one wants to talk about a seven-year-old murder. So cosy, nothing happens ― those back cover blurbs can be misleading! Daniel and Miranda spontaneously buy a dilapidated, secluded cottage to start their life together, abandoning their urban personae. Brackdale village is in hiking country, perhaps notable only for the natural feature called the Sacrifice Stone, where a woman's mutilated body had been found. Daniel's police father and his partner Hannah never found enough evidence to arrest anyone; the village believes the slightly autistic lad Barrie did it, but he too had died the same night.

Policewoman Hannah revives the original evidence in a cold case review, to no avail. We meet the reticent locals as Daniel endlessly speculates about who really dunnit. At a somnolent pace. Then finally something happens. Over three-quarters in, another body turns up. A lot of breast-beating if onlys. Half-baked mythology, amateur dream construction, clichéd relationships ... compelling, not! With its embedded English sentiment and phraseology, best for those who live in that green and pleasant land. And who uses the word dungarees any more?!

For too long he'd played the sober academic, weighing evidence with cool scholarship before proceeding to a measured judgement. (19)
A mere clearing of the throat could express a gamut of emotions and a reproving cough sufficed where others would rant and swear. (57)

Her former boss:
Hannah remembered wild conjectures jumping in her brain like fire crackers. She knew better than to voice her ideas. Ben Kind was a Puritan amongst detectives, addicted to facts and scathing about enthusiasts who got off on theories. Speculation was a dangerous self-indulgence in his book, draining an investigation of time and resources, leeching all the energy out of it. No one ever solved a crime by guesswork. You might as well hire a psychic or peer into a crystal ball. (180-1)

Daniel meets Hannah:
"I don't suppose everyone we speak to will be quite so positive."
"But if it helps the truth to come out ..."
"Daniel," she interrupted. "Just be clear about this. One thing you learn in my job is that the truth is usually the last thing people want to emerge. Guilty or innocent, it doesn't matter. Everyone has something to hide."
For a moment he thought she was about to say something else, but instead she stood up and brushed droplets of rain from her coat. "I'd better go." (248-9)

Pessimistic friend:
"Thanks for the kind invitation," Daniel said. "And I'd be glad to offer the occasional article, if it helps. But I don't think I'll be coming back to Oxford yet awhile."
"Your social calendar is already crammed?"
"What I like about this place is that I don't have a social calendar any more."
"It'll end in tears," Theo murmured. "You do realise that, don't you? The world treats escapists roughly, Daniel. They learn that in truth, they cannot escape themselves." (367)

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