Thora Hjorleifsdottir – Magma


Thora Hjorleifsdottir – Magma

After some time in Denmark and a long trip to South America, Lilja returns to her home town Reykjavik where she falls for a well-read student. She only works in a café and thus always feels a bit inferior to the intelligent young man. Nevertheless, she quickly moves in with him, knowing that she is not really his girlfriend but rather the person he shares the bed with. She calls him very private as he does not invite her to his family or friends and accepts his conditions in return for his love. Yet, this toxic relationship leaves its scars on her – figuratively on her soul, feeling not good enough for him and therefore accepting other women besides her, and very visibly on her skin when she discovers that cutting can release some stress.

Told by a first person narrator, the reader is quite close to Lilja and her thoughts. At first, she seems to be quite some tough and modern young woman who lives her life according to her own ideals and standards. Gradually, however, the downwards spiral is set in motion turning her into a vulnerable and dependent woman who is caught in the negative view of herself. Thora Hjorleifsdottir’s novel “Magma” tackles a complex and difficult issue but makes it easy to understand how some women end up in unhealthy relationships and do not find – or even want – a way out.

Lilja, on the one hand, can clearly name how she is being treated. How recklessly he chats with other women online while she is in the same room or even meets them the same day they have a date. She falls for him and accepts being treated like some second rate being, listens to him praising his ex-girlfriends in front of her and even gives in when he asks for things which clearly transgress her boundaries.

She believes she deserves being treated like this, she is not pretty enough, not good enough, not clever enough, too sensitive, behaving horribly – simply crazy, a failure. If only she could be the girl he expects her to be, then he could also love her. The narrator does not sound foolish or naive at all, even though it is obvious that this thinking isn’t healthy, we all know these kinds of toxic thoughts which are hard to get rid of even if you are standing with both feet on the ground and having a healthy self-image.

At the end of the day, it is simply how women end up being abused and ill-treated by men they believe – despite everything they go through – love them. It starts with small signs until the chain of events once set in motion cannot be stopped anymore and ultimately heads towards a complete disaster.

Wonderfully written in a reduced, direct style which makes it easy to follow the line of thoughts and go down with the narrator. More than once, you want to shout at her or take her in your arms, so heart-wrenching it is to see what’s happening without any possibility of interfering.

Emily Elgar – Grace is Gone

emily.elgar-grace-is-gone
Emily Elgar – Grace is Gone

When Cara comes to her neighbours’ house, she’s got a guilty conscience, she hasn’t seen Grace as often as she could have and the girl hardly has contact to anybody apart from her mother. Suffering from multiple diseases, she is confined to the house and needs a wheelchair to move around. What Cara finds, however, is not Grace and her loving mother Meg, but a horrible crime scene: the mother has been slaughtered and the daughter is gone. Who would do such a thing to the most beloved family of the small Cornish city of Ashford? Haven’t they suffered enough with the daughter fatally ill and their son who drowned a couple of years earlier? Together with journalist Jon, who published a not so pleasing portrait of mother and daughter a couple of months before, Cara starts to investigate and soon realises that the public picture of Grace and Meg differs a lot from reality.

Emily Elgar’s novel is a real page turner which offers some unexpected twists. The author has well dosed the revelations about Grace and Megan’s past to keep the reader hooked and curious to find out who they really were. What I liked most was the fact that – set aside the murder of Meg – most of what is told about them could be true and surely happens every day. This makes the suspenseful psychological thriller also a very sad story and leads the reader to ponder about the question how such a story could take place.

It is quite difficult to talk about the characters or the plot without giving away too much of it and spoiling the fun for other readers. I liked having alternate narrators who tell the events from their respective point of view and I also rarely find crime stories where the police and their investigation only play a minor role, or rather: none at all. Even though I had the correct idea of why and how the scheme was set up, I enjoyed reading the novel thoroughly.

Binnie Kirshenbaum – Rabbits for Food

rabbits-for-food
Binnie Kirshenbaum – Rabbits for Food

Things have been getting worse for Bunny, given this name because her parents raised rabbits, and now, New Year’s Eve is approaching. Like every year, Bunny and her husband Albie will take part in the mandatory dinner with people they call their “friends” even though they don’t see them any other evening of the year due to obvious reasons. Albie would be fine to stay at home, but Bunny knows that even though she feels depressed, she needs to play along. But then, the worst case happens: she breaks down and finds herself in a psych ward.

The novel is divided into two parts: before and after, just like people who have a breakdown or have to live through a life-changing event, divide their life. For me personally, the two parts are so different that it is not easy to come to one conclusion in the end. I’d say: thumbs-up for the first half of the novel, but a strong trigger warning for the second.

Even though the protagonist is highly depressed and struggles with the smallest everyday actions, I found the beginning of the book often very funny since the author is a master of irony and a humour that I really liked. There are so many brilliant phrases, it was a great joy to read even though Bunny’s suffering is almost overwhelming. You slowly approach the climax, New Year’s Eve, and you know that something big is going to happen, thus the suspense becomes almost unbearable.

When Bunny is hospitalised, her welcome there still has some funny aspects, but only until the laughter gets stuck in your throat and Bunny’s life becomes utterly horrible. I have read several novels about psycho wards, “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Girl, interrupted”, which were not easy to support, but admittedly, more than once I was close to just stopping reading because I could hardly stand what the nurses and doctors there do to the patients. I hope that this is not reality – even though I fear that it might come much closer than anybody from the outside world would dream. No, what Bunny has to endure in hospital is not something nice and there is no need to embellish anything, but admittedly who could ever turn to such a place to find help?

Binnie Kirshenbaum surely is a remarkable and highly gifted writer, yet, this novel definitely should be accompanied by a warning.