Saturday 16 December 2017

A lyrically thrilling trip to Sweden

Swedish for Beginners Susanne O'Leary (Matador, €10.55)

Susanne O'Leary's atmospheric and captivating new novel reminds one a little of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

It's not just the scenery or the wealthy family with the large summer residence on an island or the mystery to be solved. There is also a disturbing sinister presence which runs though the story. But there the similarity ends. Swedish for Beginners is not nearly as violent as Larsson's novel and O'Leary, author of such acclaimed novels as Diplomatic Incidents and European Affairs, has a more lyrical quality to her writing.

When her father dies, Maud Walsh learns that her late mother, the beautiful Eleonore, was Swedish. She leaves Ireland for ice-bound Sweden at the end of winter, to find her unknown Swedish family and uncover a mysterious past, over the course of a glorious Swedish summer.

Her Swedish grandmother gives her a series of letters written by Eleonore when she was very young and living in Australia with her new husband, Maud's father. Maud gets the letters translated by Anders, a handsome young man who becomes close.

At first, Maud is shocked by the Swedish attitude to sex and nudity but she soon gets in touch with her Swedish side, especially when she meets the handsome but moody actor, Lukas.

Her new-found family try to warn her about Lukas, who seems to have a malevolent streak and as the letters reveal that Lukas was in love with Eleonore in his youth, their relationship becomes uncertain. It is only when she reads her mother's final letter that she discovers the truth about her own identity and Lukas' role in her mother's life.

With Anders waiting in the wings and despite occasional clues in the letters, O'Leary keeps the reader guessing on several strands, until the final denouement.

Swedish by birth and Irish by marriage, O'Leary now lives in Tipperary. She has also lived in Australia, France, Belgium and Holland (her husband was a diplomat) and her travels are reflected in her stories.

Irish Independent

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