Frimansson, Inger - 'Good Night, My Darling' (translated by Laura A Wideburg)
What if Ingmar Bergman were to write a screenplay for a contemporary Snow White, with a really dark twist on the happily-ever-after? Well, it might turn out to be something like GOOD NIGHT, MY DARLING. Certainly it would have the dark, brooding Swedish atmosphere Bergman did so well. But believe it or not, Frimansson's book is better.
The King is a wealthy candy manufacturer, whose good wife dies when Justine, our Snow White, is only three. Their castle is a tall, narrow, stone house beside a lake in Hasselby Villastad, a village not far from Stockholm. Daddy soon marries Flora, who makes that wicked queen with the mirror look like an amateur. When Justine becomes a young woman and meets a hunter in the forest, she seduces him, thereby ending any resemblance to the fairy tale. Or perhaps it was never there to begin with. This is a psychological thriller that plays with your mind.
The story is told primarily from Justine's point of view, in the present when she is in her mid-forties and her father has recently died, leaving her the house by the lake. Flora, the stepmother, is in a nursing home dealing with the after-effects of a stroke that has left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. The narrative moves smoothly in and out of Justine's memories even as it tells of her current life, in which she meets a new man, renews an old friendship, visits Flora regularly, and tends the pet blackbird that lives inside the house. This episodic manner of advancing the story is not easy to pull off, but Frimansson does it so well that you become enmeshed before you know it. The tension builds to such an unbearable degree that you might want to stop reading, but you can't. You are caught inextricably in Justine's tale, which is, above all, a story of What Happens After.
GOOD NIGHT, MY DARLING won the Swedish Mystery Writers award for Best First Mystery in 1998. This is its first English translation and first time published in the US. It is also one of the best books I've read this year.
Read another review of GOOD NIGHT, MY DARLING.
Diana Bane, USA