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Marionetternas döttrar Maria Ernestam, Marionetternas döttrar (Daughters of the Marionettes)

Forum,  2012.

Reviewed by Deborah Bragan-Turner in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious


Maria Ernestam had a career as a  journalist before her first novel came out  in 2005. Since then she has published an  impressive list of short stories and novels,  of which the latest is Marionetternas döttrar, her sixth novel. 

The action takes place in a small  village on the west coast of Sweden, a  world where unsolved murder, suspicious  foreigners and malevolent acts of  vandalism contribute to an atmosphere  heavy with mystery and suspense. The  book begins in the 1980s, as eleven-yearold Mariana makes a horrific discovery,  which plunges the reader immediately  into a tale of secrecy and superstition.  The narrative moves back and forth  between events surrounding World War  II and the present, as they touch on the  lives of the villagers. At the centre of the  story are three sisters, a toyshop and  a carousel – and a search for the truth  about things that happened to their  father many years before.

Ernestam is known as a writer  who uses psychological drama in her  fiction, and Marionetternas döttrardoes  not disappoint. The intriguing plot  interweaves love and jealousy, trust and  deceit, reality and fantasy and musters a  colourful cast of characters, who carry  the baggage of their lives – and those of  their forbears – with them in the twists  and turns of unexpected developments.  Storytelling is an important motif in this  book, which has elements of a fairy tale  itself; the adult Mariana tells stories to the  enchanted schoolchildren, sometimes  with unfortunate consequences, and the  arrival of a foreigner who has come to  write a book prompts the unravelling of  the truth, which he too explains in the  form of a story. 

But as puppets enact scenes that  reflect the real lives of those who watch  them, their seemingly innocent actions  reveal an undercurrent of hatred and  inhumanity in this small village. The  uncomfortable contrast between the  blameless lives of the three sisters, who  come from a family of travelling people,  and the violent resentment of a few of  the villagers towards such outsiders,  permeates much of this book. 

Many of Mariana’s thoughts are  conveyed through the emails she writes  to her estranged husband in the USA  and to her lover in Germany. In one  message, she compares her puppetry  to commedia dell’arte and remarks that  ‘Everyone is fascinated by people who  transcend borders.’ It is a fascination  that sometimes leads people to do things  they don’t want to do.

The story is a captivating one, and  the reader is swept along in a desire to  know what happens next. The outcome  may not be entirely unexpected, but the  path that leads to it is full of surprises.


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