Review of Echoes from the Dead, Johan Theorin
Theorin leaves you with a hunger for more
Johan Theorin tells a story of despair, desperation and mourning so deep that it erases all other emotions. The misery caused by a lost child, accusations of responsibilities and guilt, and how it can tear whole families apart are prominent components in this well-written and very appealing debut novel.
In September of 1972 a young boy, Jens, disappears from his grandparent’s house in the small village of Stenvik in northern Öland, an island off Sweden’s southeast coast. Even though the search party is large and thorough, not a single trace of him is found and his whereabouts are never discovered. His mother, Julia, is left hanging in despair, unable to move on with her own life which in the end leaves her almost alone in life. A little more than twenty years later, Julia is on sick leave since more than a year due to a serious depression, is divorced from Jens’ father, has a very frosty relationship with her family and needs wine and pills every night to be able to sleep. The thought of Jens fills her mind completely and she keeps looking for him in the street, waiting for his return and fantasizing about his life away from her.
Julia’s father Gerlof, once a fisherman, is now living in a retirement home not far from the old village and is trying to keep himself active. He grieves the loss of his grandson and his daughter’s instability and is trying in his own ways to come to an understanding, even though he knows that the island both takes and gives to its inhabitants; it’s the law of nature. But one dark day in November something unexpected happens, a parcel is sent to him and it contains a shoe, a children’s shoe. Undoubtedly Jens’ shoe.
For the first time in years, Julia has to pull herself together and go home to the village to see the only trace of Jens that ever appeared and she is both scared and excited. Gerlof decides that it’s now or never, he has to find the truth about his grandson, even if it is the last thing he does before he dies. At the same time, winter is closing in on the island and the storms and the snow are there to stay.
The scenery of the novel, Öland, is partly an inhospitable island, with large areas of barren limestone plains, called Alvaret, which lie desolate and dreary. There are myths of a supernatural creature that lives out there, and about what happens to people who get lost in blizzards, darkness or in deep mist. Through the whole book, there’s a feeling creeping up on you, a feeling that there’s something waiting out there and that whoever takes the wrong step, like the child Jens, will be lost forever. The feeling is both uncomfortable and attractive, as a reader there’s nothing you can do except to give in, and then wait and see what lies just around another page.
With a language that floats like ice in water, Johan Theorin captures the reader in the first page and doesn’t let go. “Echoes from the Dead” is an excellent read and leaves you with a hunger for more.
Submitted: 18 juni 2012