Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: Quercus Books, September 30th 2021
My Rating: 5/5 stars
“They say you die three times. The first time for me was when my heart stopped beating beneath his hands by the lake, and the second was when what was left of me was lowered into the ground at the Solna Church. The third time will be the last time my name is spoken on earth. And so I’m waiting for it to happen.”
The Antarctica of Love is one of those pieces of literature where it took me a while to “recover” and distance myself from the experience before I sat down to write a review. Now, after a bit of contemplation time, I can say with even more confidence that this was brilliant. Dark, bleak, harrowing and therefore possibly not for everybody, but absolutely brilliant.
The story begins with the brutal murder of a young woman, viewed through her eyes as her life is snuffed out and her body is scattered throughout the landscape. Her mind remains in our world, and scatters in a way of its own, silently haunting the people and the world she’s been ripped away from. From a strangely tranquil kind of afterlife, she observes the ripples left behind by her violent and chaotic life, marked by addiction and trauma, but also by love and hope.
It’s a novel that is laced with contrasts, that emphasize the power of both extremes. The ominous sense of threat and menace that many authors associate with themes of death, is starkly present in the sections about Inni’s life. Conversely, her existence after death is strangely calm and resigned as an almost unbiased observer.
Contrast is also present in the writing itself, which is lyrical and poetic, creating a stark contrast to the bleak content of the novel. This is my first work by Sara Stridsberg, but I have to say that I’m in awe of the grasp of language and verbal imagery that both the author and the translator have put on display here. Translators don’t get enough credit, but Deborah Bragan-Turner shows about as much talent as the author herself by writing such a stunning translation. It’s what carried the novel for me, and hammered home the deep emotional impact it’s left on me.
Upon finishing, part of me wanted to return to the beginning and re-read the whole thing. To appreciate this level of skill again, and to see if there’s anything new I can glean from a second viewing. Another part of me wants to never experience the visceral disturbance this book brought to me ever again.
If you’re interested in picking up The Antarctica of Love I highly recommend you do so, as long as you’re aware it’s a disturbing and dark read. If you’re up for it: it’s a masterpiece in writing and delivers everything it sets out to do.
If you’re interested in the premise of a young woman narrating her life story after her life has been ended at the hands of someone else I’d also recommend 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. It’s a bit more of an accessible read that feels a little less dark, so it may be a good alternative if you’re hesitant to get into this one. I highly recommend both.
The Antarctica of Love is available from September 30th onwards in stores and online. It’s also available in the original Swedish under the title Kärlekens Antarktis.
Many thanks to the publisher Quercus Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.