Nowadays people talk a lot about chasing happiness. There are a multitude of books courses about being happy. Feeling happy has become something that we constantly desire convinced that when we have found the secret to being happy, everything will fall into place perfectly. Not being happy has come to be equated with failure. Is it possible to be happy each waking day, year in year out? Is it something worth striving for? Karin Altvegen explores this in her novel, “Shadow.”
Prior to reading this book, I had only read one other book by this author. Shame which had been described as:
“An existential thriller about the power of fear and the brains capability to repress things that is to painful to remember. About the fatal consequences of an atypical childhood. And about the biggest shame of all: The feeling of not having been loved by one’s parents.”
It seems this theme and moral stand is continued in Karin’s novel, Shadow; So it was with trepidation and a pre-conceived idea that I read this book. And it certainly was about not facing one’s fears and loneliness! The shadows of the past can be forgotten, but their imprint might be indelibly fixed.
This is the story of a son trying to emulate his father: a psychological thriller about relationships and how the past can influence the future – how actions live on after they are long forgotten – what starts from a lack of good parenting, is then compounded by a serious lack of communication, ends with characters who take drastic and monumentally tragic couses of action.
Featuring the writers Alice and Axel Ragnerfelt who hold a dark secret, ‘Shadow’ is a family history marked by what seems almost to be a generational pattern of despair. communication.
“She remembered how at first she was so proud to bear the Ragnerfeldt name. Her friends would get a dreamy look in their eyes whenever he was mentioned, and they wanted to hear all about what he was like. But when they noticed her ambivalence and lack of enthusiasm, she was met with suspicion, as if her words had sprung from envy. No one wanted to hear anything negative about Axel, the national treasure. She stopped saying what she felt and joined his crowd of admirers, at least outwardly. It was easier that way.”
One protagonist ponders the moment at which a personal calamity begins?
“When does the first flake fall that will form the snowball? At what stage does the movement start? Was it the day when he secretly chose the linguistic path, …. By now everything had been in motion for a long time. There was only one hour left until what they thought was theirs would be lost for ever.”
“But even a bell’s invisible crack is revealed by a dull peal. Had the evil always been inside him? Or had it taken over when everything was stolen from him. When all that remained to him was the ability to shatter in order to retaliate. Too late he realized that he had directed his revenge at himself. That what he had shown himself to be capable of had chained him to a shame too heavy to bear.
So how does he handle it?
Gratefully he felt it (the alcohol) take over. The feeling of liberation when the brain when numb. When he was no longer capable of comprehending the depth of his pain. Why weren’t human beings born this way? With their blood spiked from the start with a small percentage of alcohol? With the defense mechanism disconnected and the soul in a state of peace. Was survival really so important that it outweighed all suffering?
Sometimes I think that today we have trouble finding happiness because of our deep fear of suffering. Is happiness a type of contentment?
Contentment is a feeling of having obtained or achieved what can reasonable be desired. And this novel discusses individuals who struggle with contentment…..the courage to settle down and dare to be satisfied with what they have.
But then on page 154 Altvegen writes, “Someone who puts caution first stifles the life he’s trying to save.” and the writer’s astute observations made me ponder more about happiness and life, but in a different way. A tale of murder and family secrets is not for everyone, yet I wondered why this novel was left sitting on my TBR shelf, for so long. It is seriously good.
Shadow is a novel by Karin Altvegen from 2007 that has been translated into English.
The good: Skillful and suspenseful convoluted plot that switches back and forth with surprising twists and turns. The depth and layers of this book gives me somethings to ponder about.