This book doesn’t come across as Scandi-noir exactly, because the protagonists are well-intentioned, well-educated middle-class people who are flawed rather than evil. It’s narrated in three sections: by the father (Adam, a pastor in the Church of Sweden); the daughter (Stella, an intelligent 18 yo with a fierce personality) and the mother (Ulrike, a successful defence lawyer). Edvardsson is brilliant at writing in their voices. Central to their lives and the plot is Amina, Stella’s best friend from pre-school, who has always wanted to be a doctor. The dead victim in this story is Chris Olsen, a 32 yo man with questionable business interests and an even more questionable interest in very young women. His mother may be a professor of law but he himself is a charming narcissist who seems not to have a moral compass. His mentally unstable ex unsuccessfully brought charges of abuse against him. She tries to warn Stella off.
The story opens with the arrest of Stella. We get an interesting insight into the Swedish legal system as she’s held pending the collection of evidence and her eventual trial, which turns into a terrific courtroom drama in Ulrike’s section. As each section is narrated we find out more about what’s going on in the present and more about the past: the events that shaped this family and which led to the present drastic situation. Both parents break their moral code to protect their daughter. Lies are a theme. Is it okay to tell a big whopper to the police? What about the numerous lies we tell ourselves and each other? Edvardsson is also brilliant at showing us the psychology of each character and the values that ultimately float to the top in directing their actions. How well do we know our spouses and children? Ourselves even? This is all handled deftly while we’re still kept in the dark about who really killed Chris. Yes, Stella was certainly involved but was she the actual perpetrator? In this book you get a very real feeling of what it’s actually like to face the possibility of public shame and disgrace, not to mention the incarceration of a child who for several years has wanted nothing so much as an adventurous trip through Asia. Not since Appletree Yard have I read a book that so powerfully conveys the feeling that very soon things might get seriously out of hand. It’s a compelling slow burn. Hopefully this book will be so successful that we see more of Edvardsson’s work translated into English.
I enjoyed this very much. It is about family yet is a murder mystery. It is about a very deep friendship. It was easy to follow. Quick to get into, hard to put down. All 3 readers were extremely good on audible. The title of course is what attracted me to the book. In all of this are some very deep truths about life, family, friendship and evil. You don’t know who did until the very end. Bravo, on a great novel.
Stella is the only child of Adam, a pastor, and Ulrika, a lawyer. Stella is now of legal age and looks forward to soon taking an Asian holiday with her best friend since childhood, Amina. The two teenagers have been through much together and of course, know a lot more about each other’s true selves than their parents do. It’s that degree of separation that Stella prides herself in maintaining, seeing as her parents are both so clueless that they buy her a scooter for her birthday when Stella had clearly stated that she wanted spending money for her trip. There are many things that Adam and Ulrika do not understand about Stella and raising their strong willed daughter has not been an easy ride. Even so, Adam and Ulrika never thought it would be possible that Stella would be accused of a crime such as murder.
It is a little classist, but the novel itself acknowledges this point by having the character of the father mull over it once or twice. This is not a normal family – this is a wealthy family, who are able to hire a lawyer, therapists for their troubled child etc. This accused comes from a place of considerable privilege and you get the sense that this is what bewilders the parents in this book the most. The opportunities were there, the stable parental dynamic was there (or was it?) and the focus was placed on a single child. Yet, their daughter Stella still is caught up in relationships and situations that she is not mature or experienced enough with to extricate herself safely from.
This is one novel that goes deep into backstory, motivations, character development and the evolution of a family that find themselves caught up in a murder investigation and trial. The court room scenes are the strongest passages of the book and it is felt that the novel would have been a more immersive read if there has been more time spent on this more clinical deconstruct of a crime, as viewed from outside of the family.
A NEARLY NORMAL FAMILY is an elegantly written work that features the voices of three members of the same family – father, mother, adult child – who are all dealing with a crisis the best way that they know how. Finding out that they do not know everything about each other comes as something of a shock, and it is the slow progress to acceptance of this knowledge that forms the basis of the book. Three people living in the same house are still individuals, each with their own secret inner life.
If you are a fan of the deceptively slow burn in a novel and appreciate deep diving into the complexity of family dynamics, A NEARLY NORMAL FAMILY could be the next great crime fiction discovery for you. This is a very layered work and the timelines do cross over here and there, giving you the same event from different perspectives. Part family drama, part thriller, A NEARLY NORMAL FAMILY straddles the balance between the two with confidence, taking the crime reader behind the evolution of a crime and examines the ripple effect of those that struggle to understand how on earth this could have happened to someone they thought they knew well.
Wow! I have heard so much about this book - mostly good. I feared that it would not live up to the hype - I need not have worried - I absolutely loved this book! It was very clever, different and so well written. I could imagine watching this as a mini series on Netflix. I was sucked into the plot from the get go and right until that last word I was invested. The characters were real, flawed, emotional and believable. It was a quick read and I seriously did not want to stop reading. So be warned, once you pick this book up make sure you have plenty of time to read.
This is the story of a normal family - mum, dad and teenage daughter. Adam is the local pastor and well liked in the community. His wife Ulrika is a high powered lawyer. And the daughter Stella is a teenager - strong willed, impulsive and rebellious. Life is good until Stella is arrested - for murder. How far will a parent go to protect their child? Could Stella really be a killer? Told from the point of view of all 3 family members we learn what happened in the lead up to the crime - and after through to the trial. As soon as you think you have it all figured out you will be served a curve ball. It is sooooo good!!
Thanks to Netgalley and Pan McMillan for my advanced copy of this book to read. All opinions are my own and are in no way biased.
Mr Edvardsson a writer and teacher from Trelleborg, Sweden, who has written three previous novels and two books for young readers. He now lives in Löddeköpinge, Sweden. I believe this is the first of his work to appear in English translation. Crime fiction from the Nordic countries tends to be lumped together as Scandi-Noir, and Dictionary.com reckons noir is a subgenre of crime fiction characterised by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity, which sounds more like life to me and probably explains why it’s lasting popularity. I don’t think A Near Normal Family counts as noir. It’s crime fiction, sure, and there’s moral ambiguity, but cynicism and fatalism not so much. Also, the crime happens in summer and, as we all know, gruesome Scandi-noirish murders usually happen under cover of snow, ice, and darkness. The book unfolds in sequential first person narratives by the three members of the eponymous family: Adam, the father, a pastor in the Church of Sweden; his daughter Stella, an 18-year-old wild child (or as wild as they get in Sweden); and wife Ulrike, a defence attorney. Cue secrets and lies, yada, yada. The setting is Lund, which is in the very south of Sweden, a short ferry ride from Copenhagen. Stella’s on trial for murdering an older dude (early thirties, not fossilised), with whom she’s been having a sneaky summer fling. Older dude was a tad dodgy, and gets more dodgy with the telling, but his Mum is a legal academic of some repute so the coppers and the judge are under pressure. Character development is first rate and the twist in the tail is a beaut: more of a spiral. The lesson about how the Swedish legal system works was interesting too. While some reviewers have raised concerns about the translation, it sounded good to me.