Author: Karin Alvtegen
Publisher: Penguin Canada [this edition 2006]
Length: 352 pages
Sibylla Forsenström is 32 years old and has been homeless since she was 18. One of the tricks she uses when she wants a night’s sleep in a proper bed is to trick a businessman into paying for a hotel room for her. One night when she does this the man who paid for her room is murdered and the Police want to question Sibylla. When another body is found and the murder is also attributed to her she becomes a wanted woman all across Sweden and her usual haunts for keeping safe become unsuitable. Eventually she finds an unlikely friend and confidant who helps her to try and uncover who the real murderer might be.
I intended to read a few pages of this before going to sleep last night. I quite literally could not put it down and finished the whole thing in one sitting (thankfully it was a Friday night and I don’t work on Saturdays). Here is story telling at its absolute finest: I was hooked from page one of this simple and moving tale. It takes place over a short period of time which combined with the nature of the story and the fact that Sybilla features in all of the action depicted it has a very intense feel to it and I see from other reviews that I’m not the only one who read it in one sitting.
One of the things that struck me was that, unlike so many books these days, it didn’t delve deeply into every minute detail of Sybilla’s life and in fact left quite a few things up to the reader’s imagination. This is such a contrast from some of the detail-laden books the size of house bricks that I’ve read lately that I had almost forgotten that great stories can be told in less than 600 pages and that blood and gore aren’t necessary to create atmosphere.
Sibylla is a great character. She reminded me a little of Lisbeth in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy although given the vagaries of translation schedules I can’t work out which one would have been created first. The whole book is told from her point of view but alternates between present day events and the details of her childhood which explain how a girl born in a well to do family ends up homeless. It’s a rare character that can carry an entire book but Sibylla is interesting enough to do it and I was completely enthralled by both her present day troubles and the vignettes from her childhood. There aren’t really any other major characters but a couple of the minor players, including Sibylla’s hideous mother and the friend that helps her are both well drawn and quite memorable in their own right.
Missing is wonderfully sparse, genuinely exciting (I don’t stay up into the wee hours for just any old yarn) and quite thought provoking at the same time in the way it dealt with the issue of life’s outsiders.
My rating 5/5
Two recent reviews of this book prompted me to rescue my copy from my teetering TBR pile: Maxine at Euro Crime and Martin at Do You Write Under Your Own Name and the book has also been reviewed at Reading Matters.
Pingback: reviews and reactions « Scandinavian Crime Fiction
I’m so relieved you liked this, Bernadette – I scrolled down to your rating with trepidation before reading your review! I agree with your take on this book – it seemed to me just as intense as “Girl who played with Fire” but at half (?) the length. (I enjoyed GWPWF, of course). Although the book is short, I got really het up about that awful mother and the other people who ruined Sibylla’s childhood – very angry in fact. I think a book that can arouse that degree of emotion must be pretty good.
Pingback: The Sunday Salon 2009-07-19: Week in Review « Reactions to Reading
I’d be interested to hear what you think of Alvtegen’s Shame!