Since February and March this year Iceland strived to remain stoic and calm as thousands of tremors and earthquakes kept running through its core, waiting for a volcanic eruption which would finally happen. The island and its inhabitants were reminded again of the powerful nature and the human inability to control it. Seismic emotional activity features in Silenced, as it continues to both hide and shake memories and painful feelings for one family whose influence spreads over to other people. Recollections of seismic proportions are not really dormant under the surface.
Shockwaves of the physical and psychological earthquake are never forgotten by an artist Kristín Kjarr who had battled with own feelings of inadequacy and addictive personality traits. As a result of series of misplaced choices, culminating in nearly running over a child on a skateboard as she drove under the influence and into someone’s garden and through glass door into bedroom, she ended up in prison. Towards the end of serving her six-month sentence and seemingly full of artistic ideas as the pile of her drawings has proved, she committed suicide. Yet when the police detective Guðgeir Fransson was called to her cell, he got the impression that something was not quite right about her death. He kept thinking.
When it comes to fictional detectives the crime fiction genre offers an abundance of dedicated determined and intelligent people who will go to the end of the world and back to solve a crime and find a culprit. This doggedness often results in flawed personal relationships, drama, loneliness, failing to fit within the norms of socially accepted ordinary or less exciting, aka boring everyday life. Guðgeir seems to be an exception to the rule: managing to keep his personal life pretty intact. Of course, as we know from The Fox he has done something really bad and had to spend a year away from family and the police force in the eastern Iceland. And I do hope that more light will be shed on this so we could understand his reasons. However, compassion is his unspoken hallmark, and as he downsizes and moves with his wife to a new apartment, he also encounters a new neighbour. In a rare moment of vulnerable sincerity Andrea Eythórsdóttir, a social media star, asks him to look into a disappearance of her older brother Jóhannes who was last seen during the earthquake on 17 June 2000, that struck southern part of the country on its National Day. Guðgeir tries to follow the half-thought request from the young online influencer, a concept of a profession he has no idea about, and starts digging into the past, mostly for own sake as she soon changes her mind and clams up. He realises that her parents and younger brother Daði, a businessman, do not want to open the old wounds and search through events in the painful past for various reasons, including reputation of the family and business. But Guðgeir continues digging, especially as he has support of his boss and of colleague Elsa Guðrún. Bits of a heart-breaking puzzle begin to appear to form connection between Kristin and that family. Jóhannes was her domineering boyfriend who had brutally raped her in her home. She never went to the police as even her own parents discouraged her from doing so. After his disappearance when everyone was distraught, she eventually managed to get some financial support from Jóhannes family over the years but that kind of compensation never healed her. Justice was not done. Understanding the background of Kristin’s sad existence Guðgeir is alerted to the reports of a similar attack and rape of a woman in own home, and the links between the previous and the current events make him very concerned that a dangerous copycat is on the loose. The history might repeat itself in the most horrendous way.
Sólveig Pálsdóttir’s stylistical trademark is passion: for the characters, in her writing, setting up the frames of a story and pulling different threads into the mix to create an authentic portrait of people and their relationships. She knows the Icelandic society and its nuances, has the understanding of how it functions and how social norms and attitudes have been changing over the years. That does not mean that all is perfection. Pálsdóttir is aware of the importance of reputation which so often still fails to acknowledge the need to help those who are hurt or less fortunate. In this context she casts a sharp eye on the contrast between the apparently fulfilling successful public life of Andrea, and the reality of invisible chains keepings her tightly in the family’s demands to present only the one version of convenient truth. Silenced is not just a damn good crime story, with flowing narration, engaging characters, and sensitively depicted personal trauma (I was shaken by Elsa’s experience). It also possesses richness and depth of emotions shaped by the nature and society of the small nation. Quentin Bates’ excellent smooth translation makes this novel speak volumes.
I am delighted to kick off the #blogtour #booktour for Sólveig Pálsdóttir’s #Silenced, the second novel published by #Corylus Books. Please check the posts from the brilliant bloggers in the next weeks in April and May.