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Psychological thriller set in Telemark and Oslo

29th July 2021

Cabin Fever by Alex Dahl, psychological thriller set in Telemark and Oslo.

Psychological thriller set in Telemark and Oslo

Strangely, this is now the third novel I have read over the past couple of months, all are newly published, where the author has chosen to set a therapist centre stage, to wit The Therapist by Helene Flood (also set in Norway, as it happens) and The Therapist by B A Paris (set in Finsbury Park, London). Happily this novel has an original title. They are each different but all focus on psychological knots and conundrums, adding drama to each story.

Dr Kristina Moss is working as a psychotherapist and is in a relationship with a politician. She has her own backstory and has supervision for her work, which is mandatory in her profession. Supervision helps her to reflect specifically on her response to a client who is giving her concern – Leah Iverson – who happens to be a well known author and who seems to be self harming and increasingly anxious and erratic. Leah then doesn’t turn up to a session and Kristina goes into overdrive.

It is interesting to see how the therapeutic process compares in Norway and UK, and I am sure similar fundamentals within the professional framework are present in both countries and they align on the basic principles of what therapy constitutes. I did wonder what the author was doing with the character of Kristina, however. Kristina is highly trained and experienced, and therefore she wouldn’t easily be seduced into erratic behaviour by a client. Yet, she has a ‘sense’ about Leah and embarks on an extraordinary path and I didn’t feel there was sufficient backstory that warranted Kristina to drop her professional standards when confronted with Leah’s changed behaviour. By a third of the way in, Kristina is reaching out to all kinds of people about her client, thereby throwing patient/client confidentiality to the wind.

In England, for example, a therapist would not share the name of a client with her supervisor – the client would be given a moniker – and Kristina would need written permission from the client to exchange any information with their GP. The GP in this instance goes on to share privileged information with Kristina, in order to move the plot along. It may of course be very different in Norway but when it comes to ethics and confidentiality I imagine there is not much difference.

Kristina rings the police to report her concerns about her client who has been the ‘no show’ in her consulting room and she muses “I don’t know what I expected but I thought the police would leap into action and immediately start looking…” Er, no – as a Doctor of Psychology and a Psychotherapist she would know precisely that the police would do nothing given the circumstances, they don’t respond to a therapist’s concerns in that way. Kristina’s husband soon guesses the identity of her client because she has given too much away (that is extremely naughty!); she contacts the client’s mother (even if she is next of kin, so what?); she even goes to the client’s apartment where she meets the client’s partner who has been portrayed as an abuser. Imagine how would you feel if you knew that your therapist, with whom you have shared the most intimate secrets, then happens to make contact with someone who is a potential danger to your well-being and engages in dialogue with them? Kristina would KNOW that that kind of encounter would really ratchet up the danger levels for the client, so much so that any therapist worth their salt would side-step any such encounter. A therapist would always avoid being part of the Karpman Drama Triangle which Kristina has now firmly entered by talking to Leah’s partner (you can learn more about that dynamic here).

This all happens before Kristina truly understands that Leah really does have quite an agenda. Leah goes on to ask Kristina to go to her isolated cabin, set deep in dark woods of Telemark, and of course things only get more convoluted and darker.  What I am doing is clearly in breach of professional conduct and perhaps a little crazy, but I have the sensation that I don’t quite know what I am dealing with here”  ponders Kristina. Quite!

I have liked previous novels written by this author but with this book I just felt she had gone down a rabbit hole that felt too contrived. It’s a readable and gripping and appealed on a certain level and it has some very positive reviews. The author really does tension very well.

The author is also brilliant at conjuring up a foreboding setting, you can almost feel the heaviness of the trees, the colours prove threatening and there is a real heightened sense of disquiet, racking up the tension. The author talks about location here.

Dark pines tower over the parking lot, veils of mist twisting  between their crowns, rising towards the low-hanging close. A bitter wind sweeps across the road, tearing at me. I can feel more snow in the air…”

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021