Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Broken by Karin Fossum

Published: Harvill Secker, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-846-55061-4

First line: I see them in the porch light.

A middle-aged woman awakens one night to find a man sitting in the chair by her bed. She is a writer and the man is Alvar Eide, one of her potential characters. He has been waiting his turn to have his story told, but has become impatient.

Alvar is a contented man with a comfortable flat, an old car he rarely uses, a modest nest egg, and a good job at an art gallery. He has no family or friends, but that's the way he likes it. He is alone but not lonely. This quiet self contained existence has suited him for his 42 years, and he neither expects nor wants anything more than to continue in the same way. Then two things happen to turn his ordered life upside down.

Firstly, Lindys, a young homeless heroin addict, comes into the gallery. Instead of following his usual instincts and sending her on her way, he gives her a cup of coffee. She returns a few weeks later and begins to worm her way into his life.

Secondly he becomes obsessed with a new painting in the gallery. It is called 'Broken' and its breathtaking image speaks to Alvar in a way no other painting ever has. He desires it and can just afford it, but like most things in his life, he is frozen with indecision.

Broken is a fascinating book and it kept me engrossed as it examined the odd relationship between Alvar and Lindys, and explored the 'broken' theme. Although in quite different ways, Alvar and Lindys are both outsiders, social misfits, whose lives can be seen as broken in some way.

Alvar is not equipped to handle this headstrong young woman, and as she insinuates herself into his life, making greater and greater demands, he feels powerless to resist. He sees himself as a 'good person', and so buckles time and again in the face of Lindys' demands.

Lindys challenges everything Alvar has ever believed about himself and his life. They are polar opposites, and yet they are drawn to each other. At one point Alvar confesses to actually liking Lindys, to admiring her approach to life, her devil-may-care attitude, whereas he has order and control but is 'trapped inside myself'.

As his story unfolds, Alvar continues to visit the author, usually in a fairly anxious state, asking what is going to happen and making suggestions. There is something a little surreal about their conversations, and it made me think of the number of authors I have heard speak of their characters as having a life of their own.

The tension builds as you wonder where and how it can end until the shocking and unexpected conclusion is reached. Broken is an extraordinary and poignant book, and one that stayed with me for some time after finishing it. It is not one of Fossum's excellent Inspector Sejer series, and is not really a crime book, but it is certainly suspenseful.

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