Linda Olssonís first novel, Astrid & Veronika, is mesmerizing and unforgettable. Once you begin to turn the pages you will be swept up in this story of two women, strangers, whose tragic secrets connect them and lead them on a journey toward emotional healing.
A writer from New Zealand, Veronika Bergman travels to Stockholm after a debilitating tragedy. She is seeking a place to rest and recover and hopes to find the words to finish her novel, a love story. The rented house stands beside only one other home and she learns during a trip to the village store that her neighbor, Astrid, is the unsocial ďvillage witch.Ē Yet Veronikaís daily walks past Astridís house and the everyday sounds of life, car doors closing and music playing, draw Astrid to her window to observe her new neighbor. These sounds of life begin to intrude into Astridís solitary existence. When there is suddenly no movement or sound for two days, Astrid finds herself surprisingly concerned and she tentatively pays her neighbor a visit, finding Veronika ill and feverish. The two women speak little to each other but Astrid makes pancakes and tea. ďI will look out for you,Ē Astrid says as she leaves. Thus begins their friendship. The women begin to take daily walks, share meals and eventually share the shocking secrets that have turned their hearts to stone. As the year passes they discover the power of companionship and the heartís ability to heal.
Olsson handles many aspects of the book exceptionally well, exhibiting her ability to empathize with those who have wounded hearts. When Astrid reveals her dark secret to Veronika, the author does not allow Veronika to be judgmental. Instead, Veronika shares her own pain with Astrid, which strengthens their bond and enables them to release the toxic emotions they have hidden for so long. The chapters are short and powerful with no wasted words. Descriptive passages leave the reader with vivid pictures that make Astrid and Veronika fascinating and real. One example is the description of Astrid as Veronika sees her at first meeting:
She was dressed in a large green woolen jumper and grey trousers, too long for her and clumsily rolled up to expose a glimpse of blue-veined pale skin between sock and trouser.
This well-structured introductory sentence compels readers to want to know more about Astrid.
Changes in weather, light and the landscape are important in this story as well, and Linda Olsson helps the reader to envision the subtlest details. Poetry sprinkled throughout the novel piques the readerís interest at each chapterís beginning.
Already a wonderful short-story writer, Linda Olsson has also written several travel books. With this new endeavor, she proves that she is a master of words in this genre as well. I look forward to her next novel with great anticipation.