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This is Mankell’s final book written just before his death two years ago in 2015 and now translated into English. Forget all his Wallanders and other crime novels, this is a stand-alone work of great poignancy and depth so beautifully read that you accept Sean Barrett as Mankell himself, as well as the retired doctor Welin whose story this is.
A description of the scenario sounds like 11 hours of unremittingly melancholy. 70 year-old Welin (retired after an operation he was carrying out went horribly wrong) lives alone on an isolated Swedish archipelago in the house which had belonged to his parents. After it is burned down by an arsonist, he loses everything; his ill-tempered, troubled daughter Louise, who grew up away from him, makes a visit which is both uncomfortable and irritating for him. Even his meal contains ‘fatigue and sorrow’, and the fish and the humans are disappearing from the island. It seems ‘an ocean of emptiness’ like the Japanese-style garden Louise would like to make on the island, and there is a great deal about loneliness and loss.
But it is all so gentle (and Sean Barrett’s voice is wonderful for this) and so insightful that it doesn’t seem merely melancholy. There is the low-key crime investigation (who is the arsonist setting fire to other houses?) which makes Welin muse on just how well we ever know others; there is a new life which could grow into the next century, and his deepening relationship with his daughter; his not entirely satisfactory but treasured friendship with the prickly journalist decades younger than himself; there’s his memories of the past which come back to him in waves and make Welin entirely real and human as he (and I think Mankell) reviews his life and awaits the end he knows must come. The novel ends as Welin’s house is being re-built, the fish have returned to the sea: the final note is one of uplift and redemption (which I can’t explain without spoiling the plot). This one will stay with you.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
Well, I think this is the oddest book I have ever read - there really wasn't any 'story', it was just the meandering memories of a retired doctor. He was incredibly despondent and depressive - YET - I didn't want to put the book down as he had captured me. The 'mystery' such as it was, related to a fire that had burned down his family home, it was obvious to me who was the arsonist!
The doctor - Fredrick (not sure of spelling) really was not the nicest person one could wish to meet, he was self absorbed and depressing in a 'poor me' tone, his daughter, too, was not a particularly nice character, yet again, I wanted to know what it was all about. This really was an odd book, and I am surprised that I saw it through, it has left me just a little haunted!! I think this tells what a good writer Henning Mankell is!
Sean Barrett is such a good narrator, his voice even took on that 'depressed' tone, and I think he adds to the strength of the book.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful