Wednesday, January 22, 2014
The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson
Published February 2013 by Viking Penguin
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Marion Flint, in her early fifties, has spent fifteen years living a quiet life on the rugged coast of New Zealand, a life that allows the door to her past to remain firmly shut. But a chance meeting with a young boy, Ika, and her desire to help him force Marion to open the Pandora’s box of her memory. Seized by a sudden urgency to make sense of her past, she examines each image one-by-one: her grandfather, her mother, her brother, her lover. Perhaps if she can create order from the chaos, her memories will be easier to carry. Perhaps she’ll be able to find forgiveness for the little girl that was her. For the young woman she had been. For the people she left behind.
After reading so many rave reviews of Olsson's Astrid and Veronika, when I was offered this book, I was anxious to see what it was about Olsson's writing that appealed to so many people.
Here Olsson blends three time periods of Marion's life - a sad, difficult childhood in Sweden; an aborted chance at love in her thirties; and, finally, life as a fifty-year-old retired physician who has spend the past fifteen years hiding from other people and her own emotions in New Zealand until a young boy who needs help comes into her life.
It was a slow start for me, moving back and forth in time, shifting from first-person to third-person narratives. The more I got to know young Marion (Marianne), the more I came to understand why middle-aged Marion was so fragile and guarded and the more I came to care what happened to her. In helping Ika and in uncovering his horrible past, Marion is finally able to allow herself to slowly let her memories return so that she can, at last, deal with her own pain. These two damaged souls allow each other to slowly, quietly heal in a place where the environment allows them the solitude and peace they need.
There is much about Olsson's writing that is poetic, particularly when she writes about life on the beach. But there is also a tension that starts building, pulling the reader through the book, until all three of the stories come to their climaxes. As much as this story is about love, in its many forms, it is also filled with subject matter that is difficult to read including some that still leaves me wondering about my feelings about this book.