Winter Water – Susanne Jansson

This is a sad story about a house near a small seaside tourist island in Sweden, about loss, about grief, about breakdowns, about friendship. It is extremely difficult not to give away the parts of the story that matter. in a review. Martin and Alexandra, their three year old son Adam and infant daughter Nellie moved to Orust to live in Martin’s childhood vacation home near the sea. He needed to recover from the stress and pace of urban life and it looks like his home renovations, his work for a large mussel farm and his decision to create his own mussel farm has turned him around. Alexandra also is pleased with her job as a librarian. Martin’s best friend, Robert, and his wife Lia live nearby. Maya, a well-regarded artist/photographer has done a house-swap with another artist and has befriended Lia and Robert. She is involved with Backe, another artist, who lives in the environmental collective on Orust where Maya is staying. Martin’s parents live nearby. The story opens with Martinn, diving in the cold waters of January to see if his relatively new Mussel farm has been vandalized again. We know that a couple of brothers, whose land he must cross, are hostile. We know that his wife and daughter are going to visit her parents for a few days. Martin is thinking ahead about how he will entertain Adam while she is gone. He goes about his day, picking Adam up from day care, stopping by the grocery store, going home to find Alexandra cooked, seeing Alexandra and Nellie off, finding Adam sleepwalking on the beach at night and feeding him his favorite breakfast in the morning. I love the details Jansson brings to each character, each relationship and that the sea and its secrets is a character. I could not easily put this book down, but it is dreamy and slow and upsetting things happen and the past turns out to be messy for the house, for Martin and for others we get to know. This is a lovely story of human failure and trauma and of healing. Seemingly strong relationships are tested. Maya, a stranger, plays a key role in a stranger’s survival, yet she has trouble accepting that her connection with Backe might finally be true love in middle age. The characters are relatable in their pain and in their love for one another and in their desire to know and understand the unfathomable sea. There’s a tiny touch of a ghost story here, but is is mostly a beautifully written mystery for people who enjoy a wonderful, evocative setting and well-developed characters. So, if slow, Scandinavian atmospheric writing is not your cup of tea, move on. It was very sad to learn author Susanne Jansson passed away in summer 2019, at age 42. I will read her first book, “The Forbidden Place,” which apparently has a similar tone. Definitely MY cup of tea!

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