Sphere, £6.99. Order for £6.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
She's Never Coming Back, By Hans Koppel
Tuesday 10 January 2012
What is your capacity for reading descriptions of extreme sexual violence in novels? In the 21st century, two things are becoming clear: first, that more and more writers are prepared (even eager) to tackle this once verboten area; and that there is among some readers a resistance to it. Even massively successful novelists such as Stieg Larsson have acquired a vocal contingent of objectors who feel the treatment of rape and sexual abuse is not as responsible as the authors would have us think.
But the literary furore around Lisbeth Salander's graphically described violations will seem small beer if Hans Koppel's She's Never Coming Back repeats the success in translation that it has already enjoyed in Sweden. The author's real name is Karl Petter Lidbeck, and he has written some much-acclaimed children's books. Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir also made her mark as a writer of children's books, and said that she was building up "bad thoughts" that had to be released in an adult novel. It would appear that "Koppel" has similarly been incubating dark things.
This is indeed an extremely adroit piece of work. But some will find the appalling sexual humiliation and brutalisation of its heroine, kept prisoner in a cellar, hard to take – and consolidated by the crushing sense of despair that Koppel conveys. It's a measure of his writing skills that we follow the plight of a mother and wife devoted to her family with an almost physical sense of dread.
When Mark Zetterberg's wife, Ylva, does not return from work, he is not initially worried, but her absence initiates a nightmare for him. His discomfort, however, is nothing compared with that of his wife. She has been captured and is being subjected to ritual torture and debasement for initially unexplained reasons – other than to destroy her will. There is one final horror: she is being held captive in the house opposite her own.
Whatever your own reaction to the treatment of Ylva here, this is a supremely professional piece of work with a palpable sense of tension, and couched in unvarnished prose (in a utilitarian translation by Kari Dickson).
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Student jailed for hacking University of Birmingham computers to improve his grades
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
MasterChef 2015: Simon Wood named winner
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Sherlock series 4: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have to be 'persuaded' to return, says Steven Moffat
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election