Review of The Merman, Carl-Johan Vallgren
Vallgren keeps the reader close
It is the early 80s in Falkenberg, a small town on the southwest coast of Sweden. The siblings Nella and Robert are growing up in a harsh environment. The kids in school see them as different from the rest. Their dad is a jailbird, their mum a well-known alcoholic and they are often dirty, hungry and unwanted. Nella, being a few years older than her brother, tries to support and take care of him, which unfortunately is more than necessary. Robert has dyslexia, a vision defect and a tendency to pee his pants when nervous, and Robert is a very nervous creature. Nella is the one cooking, doing the laundry, trying to keep them clean and protect Robert from the bullies in school. It’s socially acceptable to taunt Nella and Robert. Barely anyone notices when Gerard, the tearaway of the school with obvious psychopathic features, decides that Nella is a squealer who needs to be punished. He decides that Nella and Robert need to pay whatever he asks for to become free from him.
At the same time, strange things are happening in Nella’s life and she’s not sure what to think of them. Events surprise her in a way that gives her insight into human cruelty. She has the doubious privilege to realize early in life that if other people have the possibility to hurt you, it’s most likely that they do, without even thinking.
This was a very painful read but at the same time appealing and sometimes even pleasing. Carl-Johan Vallgren’s language is mighty fine and when it tells the reader about happenings that makes the stomach turn, that awakens a feeling of helplessness, rage and disgust, then it is as its best.
Vallgren critically studies the human mind and keeps the reader close, to make sure they don’t miss any details when he digs down into its deepest, most cruel recesses. When he exposes the parts of the mind humans usually don’t acknowledge, not even when the darkness is right in front of you in the shape of a teenage boy, it’s a good reminder of the fact that evil very seldom presents itself the way we want it to, distant and unknown. Instead it’s generally within all of us, more or less visible. The old saying that evil will rule the world if all the good people are quiet has never been so true, represented by a harassed, abandoned teenage girl somewhere outside Falkenberg in the early 80s.
Submitted: 15 juni 2012