The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg
Translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner
Published by Quercus Books, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Though this is in many ways a quiet, ruminative character study, it kept me utterly enthralled. It opens, as so many books do, with the violent murder of a young woman, but it immediately subverts every trope associated with the dead-girl-as-mere-plot-device.
Inni is exactly the kind of person who falls through the cracks of society, and whose death is flippantly portrayed in media time and time again: a drug addict living on the street who has turned to prostitution to scrape by. Taking on an omniscience, she narrates the novel herself, reclaiming her story in a way she never could while alive. Weaving back and forth through time, she reflects on every decision and heartache that led her to the point of her death, and watches over those she has left behind as they carry on without her – namely: her parents, her former lover, and her two children, both of whom were taken into care before she died. The story always returns to the scene of her death, however, which throughout the novel is explored in excruciating, harrowing detail. Despite the complexity of her character, and a life of love, loss, trials, and tribulations, it is this single moment out with her control that is unfairly destined to be her legacy.
The prose is stunning, with the translation having been handled seamlessly. In some instances, it may have seemed too dense or flowery, but the almost dreamlike quality is perfectly suited to the novel’s tone of melancholy and contemplation.
A shattering portrait of addiction, grief, the impact of trauma, and the idea of familial inheritance, this heartfelt novel and its painfully well-realised protagonist will stick with me for quite some time.