Sue in Sweden mentioned hearing Linn Ullmann speak in a library and recommended her books.
Three sisters — three mothers, same father — came together each summer with their father and his wife on an island called Hammarso off the east coast of Sweden. These gatherings came to an end after a tragic event caused by teenage cruelty that occurred when the youngest sister was 5 years old, and the other two were 14 and 12. The oldest, Erika, is reliving the events of that summer as she is driving back to the island for the first time since that summer some 25 years before. Her father has given up his apartments in Stockholm and Lund and lives the hermetic life on the bleak island. Ultimately the three daughters decide to descend on him together to finally talk about that event.
The summer inhabitants of the island in the mid-70s seem to be very successful, driven people. The father of the three daughters is a gynecologist and one of the inventors of the ultrasound; he is very intense and requires his daughters be outside for long stretches of the day so he can work in peace. The group of teenagers on the island bring to mind Lord of the Flies; they are unsupervised enough to get into terrible mischief and bright enough to think of some pretty bad ideas.
As Erika makes her way south, we learn about her life; she has become a gynecologist like her father, but is only able to make her way out of Oslo and through the countryside by talking herself through it. As the middle sister Laura goes through her day when she is deciding whether to drive to Hammarso too, we learn she wakes up with big plans (sell the house, make a nice dinner for her husband, play outside with her children), but she is paralyzed, at times literally, on the street. Molly, the youngest, decides to make the trip too and we hear about her reasonable anger at her father who did not take her in when her mother died when she was seven and she was left in the care of her forever mourning grandmother.
The author conveys the insecurity and sadness of these intelligent and apparently successful women who live in a dark and forbidding world in a most convincing way. She is the daughter of Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman.
Linn Ullmann, A Blessed Child, Alfred A. Knoph, 2008. translated from Norwegian by Sarah Death, 307 pages. Available at the public library.
Linn Ullman is a writer I’ve been meaning to read. If her next novel gets good reviews, I’ll probably read it. I love to watch the old Bergmann movies in which her mother starred.
This book did make me think of those wonderful old Bergman films, so evocative and at the same time elusive. Maybe it’s time to see them again.