Author: MT Edvardsson
Publication Date: 25 June 2019
Publisher: Macmillan (2019)
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
“A Nearly Normal Family” is that rare thing, a thriller that genuinely keeps you guessing until the last few pages of the novel. Believable characters, good writing, and a plot that’s easy to believe, all contribute to a compelling narrative.
This is an excellent translation from Swedish. The speech sounds natural (often a particular problem with translations), there’s no odd word use, and it all flows well. In fact, I had to go back and check that it was a translation, because it was so seamless.
Although the novel is set in Lund, in Sweden, the urban setting will likely feel familiar to many readers. Similarly, Adam, Ulrika and Stella – the family of the title – will feel familiar to many. Adam is the overprotective father struggling to come to terms with the fact his almost-adult daughter makes choices different to his. Ulrika is the mother who’s always struggled to balance her career and parenting. Stella is the daughter who doesn’t understand her parents, and doesn’t really want to. She just wants to forge her own path.
All perfectly normal, perfectly familiar – until Stella is arrested for murder.
The novel is told in three sections, from the perspective of Adam, then Stella, then Ulrika. Within each section, from chapter to chapter, the novel switches between the present and the past – sometimes a more distant past, sometimes just the last few weeks. This sounds confusing, but in fact it’s easy to follow. It’s a brilliant way of maintaining suspense and building towards the murder. In addition, the perspectives overlap slightly – we see how differently each of them has interpreted some events. And that, of course, increases the doubt in our mind regarding Stella’s guilt or innocence.
This clever structure also layers our understanding of the characters and how they’ve reacted to certain events. Each character has some traits we recognise from the first pages, but as the novel proceeds, each is developed into a complex individual. Most readers will find something to empathise with in each, and will feel they understand them.
The Swedish legal system is a little different from the American system we see depicted so often, and so the goals of those defending Stella are a little different than we might expect. For me, this added a little extra interest.
I found this a tense and engaging thriller. I wanted a positive outcome, but as the moral questions piled up, my view of what that might be changed. I genuinely wasn’t sure who’d committed the murder; and I was thoroughly absorbed in the journey to find out. Highly recommended.
This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine.
A Nearly Normal Family is available now through Pan Macmillan and where all good books are sold.