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.