We all know what happens when we keep secrets, when we keep silent, when we don't allow the truth to enter our sphere and set us free.
Like strangers on a plane, Eva, opens her world to us. She is married to Simon, a physician, and she a teacher. Both retired now, and living a very quiet life. They are a middle class couple, living comfortably in Norway. They have three daughters, but really do not have a close connection. How very sad. Eva and Simon love each other, but decisions they both made earlier in their married lives have cost them a great deal. The pain that they experienced has not been released, it is pent up, and causing issues for both of them. Simon has become increasingly silent, was it depression that sent him into this whirlwind, and now some form of dementia has set in. Eva finds herself taking long walks, stopping at a grave site of a young man who seems to be alone. No one ever cares for the site or leaves flowers, so Eva starts to care for it. She walks by a church and meets the Priest. He offers her assistance or to come in at any time. Little by little she speaks, but not the big secrets she carries with her.
We hear about the girls, their lives as babies and an incident. Eva and Simon loved their girls, but they never talked about their secrets, nor opened up about their lives. Certainly the girls were aware of the reserve of their parents, but did they have any insight into the large parts of their parent's lives they did not know about? They urged their parents to hire someone to help them clean, they had such a big house, and but was too much for them. They hire Mariya, a woman from Latvia, and they become close. Mariya eventuality moves into their home, but she is fired, and the parents will not disclose the reason to their daughters. What has caused this, why can't they talk to their children. And, yet, as we discover Eva and Simon can't really talk to each other. Silence has been the bulwark of their lives. Simon is alone in his silence and dementia, and Eva is alone in her life, silence abounds.
This is a beautifully written novel, short, sharp words in it's simplicity. The characters Eva and Simon come to life as we get to know a little about them. The story is told by Eva, she is telling us her secrets, and explaining her life with Simon, we are all she has.
Recommended. prisrob 02-07-14
Breath-taking in its emotional impact, insightful in its depiction of the main character and themes, and completely honest, this remarkable book left me weeping in places, silently begging the main character not to make some of the choices that I knew she would inevitably make. Eva, an ordinary, elderly woman with a now-silent husband, tells her own story, with all the hesitations, flashbacks, regrets, and questions which are tormenting her now and which have confounded her husband. In creating Eva, Norwegian author Merethe Lindstrom has brought to life a vividly depicted character filled with flaws, prone to second-guessing, and sometimes overcome with regret for past mistakes, and she does this without any hints of authorial manipulation in Eva’s story, which feels as if it is emerging of its own will from Eva’s depths.
Eva, the mother of three daughters by her husband Simon, is also the mother of a son, whom she gave up for adoption when she was an unmarried teenager, and she often wonders about his fate. Eva has few friends, shunning intimacy, even with her own children, and though she eventually became a teacher of language and literature, she was constantly aware of being superfluous to the school’s success. Now retired, she admits that “I do not know if I miss the work, but I wish to be part of something, I always have the feeling of being left out.” As Eva introduces Simon, she notes that he started to become silent two years ago, and she is now forgetting the sound of his voice. He has begun to wander outside alone, and though she takes him to a daycare center two days a week, her daughters feel that he now needs full-time care.
The novel develops through Eva’s memories as they swirl in an order which feels random but which the author has subtly planned for dramatic effect. Always, there are questions about what happens next. Simon’s life in central Europe during World War II and its aftermath; their three-year relationship with Mariya, their housekeeper, who became Eva’s intimate friend; the young intruder who entered their house years ago and frightened Eva and her pre-school children; Simon’s need for family; and Eva’s attempts to assuage the guilt she feels about secrets in her own life, all appear and reappear through memories which increase the reader’s knowledge.
Much of the novel feels like a musical canon, with motifs appearing, being superseded by other motifs, then reappearing, almost like a round. Winter, the imagery of the church, a mailbox bringing letters with news of past and present, Eva’s commitment to decorating a grave of a stranger, and a large snail shell which she finds in one of her closets also raise questions about life and death and memories and home, and add to the abundant symbolism. Though this is one of the most memorable books I have read in years, it will not appeal to everyone. It is a character-based novel, with little plot, and those expecting a Nordic noir mystery, a straightforward narrative, a love story, and/or a story about people who are younger than “elderly” may be disappointed. For those who have dealt intimately with elderly family members with memory problems, or those who are senior citizens themselves, however, this is an honest, powerful, and never-to-be-forgotten novel which touches the soul.