October is the Coldest Month (Christoffer Carlsson)

4 Stars

“Vega Gillberg is 16 years old when the police come knocking on the door looking for her older brother, Jakob.

Vega hasn’t heard from him in days, but she has to find him before the police do. Jakob was involved in a terrible crime. What no one knows is that Vega was there, too.
In the rural Swedish community where the Gillbergs live, life is tough, the people are even tougher, and old feuds never die. As Vega sets out to find her brother, she must survive a series of threatening encounters in a deadly landscape. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s dealing with the longing she feels for a boy that she has sworn to forget, and the mixed-up feelings she has for her brother’s best friend.

During a damp, raw week in October, the door to the adult world swings open, and Vega realises that once she has crossed the threshold there is no turning back.”

I don’t read a lot of thrillers. That’s not to say I don’t like the feeling that you get from reading thrillers, there’s something about that dry-throat, adrenaline-surge as everything begins to tumble apart. Generally, I tend to get my fill of that feeling from horror books, but there was something about the blurb of this particular YA psychological thriller that drew me right in.

From the start there’s a very sinister feel to the story, all dark forests, drowning bogs and remote trailer parks. Much of the local economy runs on moonshine and the general atmosphere is one of ‘don’t ask questions that you don’t want the answer to’. Vega’s world is a hard and unfamiliar one. I’m sure that most people think of Scandinavia as some kind of utopia, they certainly don’t usually stop to consider the stories of those raised in poor rural towns and villages.

The story starts with a visit from the police. You get the feeling that the police don’t very often stick their noses into the business of this little forest community, and that their presence is unusual and unwanted. Vega, our protagonist, is asked whether she knows the location of her brother who is wanted for questioning about a crime. Vega must pretend that she knows nothing when, in fact, she knows exactly what they are talking about…she just doesn’t entirely know why it happened. We follow Vega as she tries to work out what happened that night and what it has to do with her brother.

It’s a short book, only taking me an evening to finish, but I think it’s the perfect length for the story that Carlsson wished to tell. I’d argue that it’s much more about Vega’s growth in an environment hostile to young women, than the mystery of the crime itself. Vega has to stick her nose in places where she is not welcome, learning uncomfortable truths about her brother, money and her uncle’s moonshine operation. A portion of the book is also devoted to her complicated feelings for one of the local boys and their awkward and strained relationship following some drunken fumbling. I liked that Vega’s interest in sex wasn’t shamed at any point during the book. She’s a sixteen year old girl, unapologetically finding what she likes in a world that has forced her to grow up too fast.

This book was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I got was a rich little book, evoking all the cold loneliness of rural Sweden. Vega is a wonderful protagonist, who is fighting a battle against her past and the stagnancy of the world around her. Although the ending is left quite open, I found myself hoping that she ended up with a future that she deserved. I’ll definitely be picking books up by Carlsson in future.

Many thanks to Scribe UK and Netgalley for a copy in return for an honest review.

 

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