Title: A Summer of Drowning
Author: John Burnside
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication Date: July 9, 2012
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Dear Fellow Babblers,
For today’s book review, A Summer of Drowning …
This post is for the solitary people, and therefore for the readers of A Summer of Drowning.
A terrifying and dream-like new novel from one of our greatest contemporary writers.
At a critical point in her career, painter Angelika Rossdal suddenly moves to Kvaloya, a small island deep in the Arctic Circle, to dedicate herself to the solitary pursuit of her craft. With her, she brings her young daughter, Liv, who grows up isolated and unable or unwilling to make friends her own age, spending much of her time alone, or with an elderly neighbour, Kyrre Jonsson, who beguiles her with old folk tales and stories about trolls, mermaids and — crucially for the events that unfold in the summer of her eighteenth year — about the huldra, a wild spirit who appears in the form of an irresistibly beautiful girl, to lure young men to their doom.
Now twenty-eight, Liv looks back on her life and particularly to that summer when two boys drowned under mysterious circumstances in the still moonlit waters off the shores of Kvaloya. Were the deaths accidental, or were the boys, as Kyrre believes, lured to their deaths by a malevolent spirit? To begin with, Liv dismisses the old man’s stories as fantasy, but as the summer continues and events take an even darker turn, she comes to believe that something supernatural is happening on the island. But is it? Or is Liv, a lonely girl who has spent her entire life in the shadow of her beautiful, gifted mother, slowly beginning to lose touch with reality?
Set in the white nights of an Arctic summer, the novel has the heightened, hallucinogenic atmosphere of a dream, but culminates in a moment of profound horror. Intensely imagined and exquisitely written, A Summer of Drowning is a play of dark and light, of looking and seeing, that will hold and haunt every reader.
For those who dream of a dangerous, adventurous life, yet whom remain indoors deep within the dusty pages of inked characters on a crisp, white page;
Three days ago, do you remember that hearing that pretty and prim group of poppy-seed posse calling you a recluse because you chose an evening of trolls and faery tales;
A desolate Friday night entering the ancient myth of the huldra, lets call her Maia, who is somehow attached to the the drowning of two sibling boys? the inexplicable disappearance of the perverted Martin Crosbie ? and how about the animalistic screams that pierce the air, signaling the vanishing of Kyrre Opdahl and thus the end of summer on a remote island lost somewhere in the depths of the Arctic Circle?
Most of you recluses answer, « No babbler, it was not a myth. These moonlit and supernaturally dark tales were and must still be true! »;
And here is where the adults whose shadow dismisses fantasy and fictive worlds laughs and huffs at the idea of an evil troll’s capability to mask her repulsive spirit with beauty; a way to lure the chosen ones to their death.
Eighteen-year-old Liv will not mock nor dispute such doomed imaginations.
Now twenty-eight, she is here to tell us these tales have come to life in what she calls, The Summer of Drowning;
A narrative about a young girl and her desolate mother, the famous painter Angelika Rossdal whose lives appear calm, transfixed, and structurally ideal until one Summer, filled with lit midnights, and dark noons; an isolated world where suitors arrive promptly for Saturday tea and deathly hollow stories of trolls, improbably deaths, swimming mermaids and dangerous women are ritualistically told throughout childhood, into adolescence by eternally old men;
A narrative whose 328 pages breaks from reality and never truly brings the solitaires back, not really;
A narrative about dreamt white nights, illusory atmospheres of horror, eyes that tell lies and fantasies that speak truth;
A universe where loners exist and friends and company are welcomed as wicked enemies and cameras and binoculars seek out foreign predators;
A story within many stories, tainting and unifying perceptions of a white, dark, gripping series of hours;
A mysterious background story of an absent fathers whose one appearance in a narrative only exists as a means of presenting his subtle death and exemplifying Liv’s heartless and sarcastic treatment of the term, idea, meaning « father »;
A cryptically crafted story that traverses a multitude of spaces throughout England and the Arctic islands, gradually climaxing into a terrifyingly suspenseful and hallucinatory atmosphere;
A series of unreliable focalizers;
A series of climactic and yet anticlimactic events;
An eternal, yet seemingly ephemeral series of sublime descriptions;
An inspiring, yet inexplicably terrifyingly affective tone penetrating into the solitaires blood as a stories suspense escalates to interweave a series of unreliable focalizers, contradictory events, and contradictory descriptions;
An author’s imagination;
This post is for the solitaires;
for the recluses;
Enter a fantastical cosmos about beguiling misfortunes and unlikely plots;
Realize the power of beautiful imagination and beautiful written language.
The possibility of truth within childhood tales.
The possibility, no the brilliance of A Summer of Drowning.
In a world of rationality, and evidence, and congruent truth, escape the jabber of the world into your desolate mind. Opt for the illogical, the improbable, the illusory hallucination, The cosmos of fiction and the world of the written. Of a place hidden in the cold woods and wet meadows where, one summer, the huldra stood and watched two boys drown, one foreigner disappear, and an old man vanish, but not die.
Escape reality, and live your solitary life amongst your books and remember, those who read, have seen more, experienced more, felt more on the inside than those who live on the outside.
Read A Summer of Drowning? Did you love the descriptions? The plot? The characters? Are you a solitaire in look of a fellow babbler? Lets babble!
(Book image credits go to Goodreads).