FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”

Ever since Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), published in English translations between 2005 and 2007, I’ve dipped into the Scandinavian crime fiction scene with morbid curiosity. Are these violent novels accurate pictures of life in the countries themselves? Can guns be acquired as easily as candy in the Nordic countries, just as they can in the United States? Are the people in these countries as obsessed about their firearms as many Americans are? Naively, perhaps, I’ve always regarded the Scandinavian countries as safer than the United States, more sanely run by people who have a genuine concern for someone beside themselves. I confess that I may have a romanticized image of the well being of people in these countries and hope that the violence in the wave of Scandinavian crime fiction is pure fantasy and not the outgrowth of unadulterated fear.

That said, it’s hard to top the violence in the two-page opening sequence (“The Classroom”) of Malin Persson Giolito’s novel, Quicksand. The first-person narrator describes the five bodies that surround her in a classroom, after a violent shoot-out: a teenager from Uganda, another from India, the homeroom teacher, a girl named Amanda—who is presumably the narrator’s best friend—and, finally, a boy named Sebastian, who happens to be “the son of the richest man in Sweden” and also the narrator’s boyfriend. Blood is everywhere. The room “smells like rotten eggs. The air is hazy and gray with gunpowder smoke. Everyone has been shot but me. I haven’t got even as much as a bruise.” Her name is Maja Norberg and she’s eighteen, though later during her trial when she is charged with killing two of the victims, she will be described as looking older than that, in part because of her developed breasts.

As the trial (and the novel) drags on, the charges against Maja are murder, incitement to murder, plus being an “accessory to murder and attempted murder.”  Media accounts of the mass murders have created stereotypes of the couple: “Maja and Sebastian were a young couple with lots of problems: with drugs and alcohol, with school and each other, with their parental relationships and with their friends.”  During the lengthy trial, “The prosecutor [tries] to show that Maja’s search for affirmation knew no bounds, that she felt unreasonable hatred for the people around her and Sebastian, that she wanted revenge, that Sebastian was weak, that she felt threatened and challenged and that Maja was the only steady point in his existence, that he sought affirmation from her.” A number of those assumptions may be true, even though they border on pop psychology. But why, I ask you, does it have to take 500 pages (well, 498 to be exact) to resolve the issue that we know will be inevitable? Maja won’t be found guilty of the murders, the trial will exonerate her, and justice will prevail. Such a long slog to get there.

And that is my major problem with crime novels. They’re puffed up, overly written as if the writers are being paid for each word. (Perhaps they are). Worse, in Maja’s case, we’ve got an insufferable voice we have to listen to for all those pages. She’s sarcastic, irreverent, and lame. I borrow that last word from Maja’s initial observation of her trial: “The whole show was lame.” Is this Holden Caulfield reincarnated into the voice of an eighteen-year-old rich Swedish girl? Or is the intent of the writer pure titillation? There are scene after scene of Sebastian’s parties, where almost everyone is stoned out, and there’s plenty of sex. In fact, Maja confesses that Sebastian first made a pass at her when they were five years old. In pre-school, he kissed her; he touched her for a week and then moved on to other girls for the next thirteen years. “Did I miss it for all those years in between, when he played with others, dated others, was a grade ahead of me and I knew who he was but not the other way around? Yes, I did.”

No wonder she can’t keep her hands off the guy when Sebastian finally shows interest in her again. They can get high as often as they want, jet-set around the world or ride on Sebastian’s father’s thousand-foot yacht (well, it’s a little shorter than that). And there’s endless sex, with no restrictions coming from their families.

Pure pleasure, until Sebastian flips out all because of his repeated abuse from his insensitive and callow father. But that’s enough of the story, in spite of what I agree are numerous surprises in plotting.

For me, Stieg Larsson remains the genius, the pro, because of his extraordinary characters in the Millennium trilogy. They have depth; they’re multi-faceted.  As I wrote in CounterPunch years ago, there’s a Dickensian quality to them that makes you care for them, agonize about dilemmas, and cheer them on when they finally eradicate the forces of evil. (Dickens does that also.) So, although Malin Persson Giolito’s Quicksand will mostly keep you turning the pages, by the time you get to the end of the novel, you can only bemoan once again Stieg Larsson’s premature death.

Malin Persson Giolito: Quicksand
Trans. by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Other Press, 498 pp., $25.95

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail