Columbi Publishing, 2012.
Reviewed by Janny Middelbeek-Oortgiesen in SBR 2013:2
Review Section: Fiction: The Past
Sometimes you come across a book that, as soon as you finish reading it, makes you want to start all over again to see where you might have missed some important clues. Such a book is Elisabeth Östnäs’s (born 1974) debut novel Feberflickan, which was nominated for the Book-Bloggers’ Literary Prize 2012.
The story is set in Lund, some hundred or so years ago, in the house of a university professor. One day the professor and his wife are found in the house, brutally murdered. Their daughter, Luna, a young woman, has been alone in the house all day. She declares that a man came by, but that she herself has nothing to do with the murders. No trace is found of a man and Luna is arrested, but later she is released because of lack of evidence.
Summarised like this, this novel seems to be nothing special at all, but Östnäs’s approach and style make it something out of the ordinary. Luna is at the centre of the narrative and the reader learns about what happens entirely through her eyes and mind.
On a hot summer day, Luna walks around alone in the dusty house. Her father and stepmother are out, the maid has her day off. Her elder sister, Stella, is married and lives somewhere else. Their younger brother is in an asylum.
Some rooms in the house are forbidden territory for Luna (since when? Why?), but she has somehow come by the keys.
Luna feels dazed. She discovers that there is blood on her dress, but she is having her period, so perhaps that is the reason? Still, she hides the dress in her closet. She cleans the staircase and tidies up until people come home. The bodies of her parents are found in a room Luna was supposed not to be able to enter, and she is arrested. Although the murder case arouses strong feelings among the public, both from people who see Luna as a brutal offender and those who consider her a pathetic victim, she endures her imprisonment with a sense of resignation. Her acquittal does not really seem to affect her, either.
Östnäs’s style is subtle and very sensitive. Period details of the homes and the clothes are spot on, and as a reader, you can almost smell the odour of the dusty house, the warm summer day and, last but not least, the blood on Luna’s body. Furthermore, there is not one word too many in this narrative, which was inspired by the famous case of Lizzie Borden.
The narrative is composed in a very ingenious way. What exactly did happen? Did Luna actually kill her father and stepmother in cold blood? And if so, why should that be? Why does she keep referring to her mother as ‘stepmother’, while all the other people keep telling her it is her real mother? Why does Luna’s brother have to live in an asylum? Is Luna a mad woman (her name!), as some people seem to think, or is she a victim? But then again, a victim of what?
It is not until the last page the reader learns what really happened and what lies beneath Luna’s dazed and alienated conduct.
With this dark and dreamy narrative Elisabeth Östnäs delivers an original and intense ‘noir’ reading experience. It will be very interesting to see how her authorship is going to develop.