Dystopian novel set in SOUTH EAST FRANCE
DECEMBER 2023 – Yule Island by Johana Gustawsson – STOCKHOLM
22nd December 2023
Yule Island by Johana Gustawsson, a Gothic Thriller set in Stockholm (Storholmen)
Translator: David Warriner
I was thoroughly enjoying this dark, mysterious book when suddenly – WOW! What just happened? I’d heard that Yule Island by Johana Gustawsson was a twisty, #Scandinoir novel that has been a huge hit in France. I’d eagerly anticipated reading it in the English translation, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the absolute shocks it contains – in the best possible way. This is the work of a truly skilled author, who ensures we want to read on and yet makes us question our every assumption.
Yule Island is set on Storholmen, a small island in the Stockholm archipelago, where cars are banned, and time seems to have stood still. The island’s only fame lies in the death, nine years ago, of a teenage girl – a murder that was never solved. Emma Lindahl visits the island as part of her job as an art appraiser. She is a little disturbed by the place’s reputation, especially since she will be working in the manor house where the dead girl was found hanging from a tree in the grounds. Emma feels lonely and unloved; her only friend the cross-dressing and extrovert Lulu. When she finds a hidden note in the manor house, pleading for help, she feels compelled to act. By contrast with the business-like and cold reception she receives from the Gussman family at the manor, she is bathed in warmth in her new friendship with Anneli , the café proprietor, and the Storholmen islanders.
Detective Inspector Karl Rosén is also having a troubled time, trying to carry on his investigative work while worrying about his wife, who has disappeared. When the body of another teenager turns up, frozen in the ice, it’s business as usual and he must find out what happened to the victim. As a matter of course, he and his team look into links with the earlier death, though he finds the Gussman family reluctant to help. Meanwhile, plenty of implausible theories are put forward, from Viking ritual to supernatural intervention.
Yule Island is a very special book. Gustawsson gives us wonderful descriptions of the location the book is set in, contrasting the metropolitan bustle of the Swedish capital with the slumbering archipelago. We learn the day-to-day things that make this area so special, such as commuting to work by water taxi, celebrating new year with special cakes and the ancient history and Viking traditions that are said to continue to this day. The first part of the book is a relatively gentle, though fascinating, read but it all takes a turn toward drama, suspense and palpable shock as far as the reader is concerned. I hesitate to say this, but I challenge anyone to guess what might happen next! Gustawsson is an incredibly talented writer, keeping us guessing and holding our breath right to the climax of the book.
I understand that this is the first in the Lidingö series of books from Gustawsson and cannot wait for the next! Thank you once more to publishers Orenda, and translator David Warriner, for bringing us such wonderful works in translation – what a privilege to read them.
Sue for the TripFiction Team
And catch the author on Twitter @JoGustawsson
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