mardi 29 juillet 2008

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

Sometimes its all in the title. This book has been sitting in my shelf for awhile now and every so often my eyes would light upon it and the title would resound in my head, progressively tugging at my mind till finally, I picked it up. The title is certainly arresting enough and the much of the story takes place in the exotic landscape of Lapland.
It begins with the death of Clarissa’s father and a discovery that changes her life. I realize that a statement like that doesn’t reveal much, and those who are wary of spoilers, should skip ahead to the review of the book. She learns that the father she’s just buried is in fact not her father. This discovery poisons her life and pushes her to find answers and her mother who had disappeared from their family 14 years earlier. And her search takes her to the little known lands of the Sami people, from whom she is descended.
Much of the novel’s strength lies in the control author Vendela Vida wields over her heavy subject matter. There are secrets built upon other secrets and she reveals them slowly while ensuring that we stay engrossed in Clarissa’s story. In a way the exoticness of the story’s locale underscores the psychological terrain that Clarissa’s character explores. There is an overlapping theme of searching for identity, making a new one at the same time creating multiple lives to fit these different identities. And it is extremely interesting to read a character that is able to do so completely without regard to the emotional cost to those who love her. I think one of the most brutal lines I’ve ever read comes about almost at the end of the book, where Olivia, Clarissa’s mother tells her “you poor thing…you always tried so hard to get a reaction from me. Can you put another log on the fire?” A cold character to say the least, but the story is so well told, that while I was horrified, there was a basis from which I could see how it could come about and even felt a sort of sympathy or empathy for her. Ultimately its ending is consistent with its theme of finding, renewing and creating identities that finally, allow one to live. Re-reading it now, as I write, I find that it is a gratifyingly hopeful one.
Aside from Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, RWB also carries Vida's well received debut novel And Now You Can Go.

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