New Historical Fiction Demonstrating Excellence in
Storytelling and Writer's Craft
A Fortune Foretold
Agneta Pleijel, Other Press, 2017, New York, $14.95, pb, 256pp, 9781590518304
(Originally published in Swedish as Spadomen by Norsted’s, Stockholm, 2015)
(Translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)
She has averted a dreadful threat. During Ricki’s visit she has laid herself like a bridge across the river of differences. She has succeeded. There must be no differences.
And everyone must love one another.
If they don’t, she will be split right down the middle.
Mid-twentieth century Sweden
By the time Neta is in sixth grade, she has been “the new girl” so many times, “… she feels the familiar chafing of being an outsider, the gnawed sensation that comes from being painfully compelled to see herself through the eyes of others. That is the worst thing of all. You are out of yourself, fumbling blindly.”
An outsider at school, Neta becomes increasingly embroiled in her parents’ failing marriage. “Dad tells stories, does the dishes, and tries to cheer everyone up, but it doesn’t help. When he notices that none of this makes Mom feel any better, he becomes distant, as if a veil is drawn over his face.” As her father retreats, Neta becomes the bulwark between her depressed mother and her mother’s disappointing, unfulfilled life.
It is therefore Ricki—Neta’s calm, stable aunt, an architect “surrounded by a magic all her own,”—whom Neta most wishes to emulate. “I am trying to remember Ricki, but I am the one who takes center stage. Or rather she does—the girl.”
The narrator relates her coming-of-age in third-person, present-tense, non-linear scenes, referring to her younger self as “the girl” or “she” and peppering her story with first-person, past-tense reminiscence and commentary. This saltatory, dissociated narrative style occasionally proves unwieldy when time and place become unclear or when the identity of “she” comes into question; but it adroitly complements the narrator’s striving to reassemble and reconcile a distant, chaotic, peripatetic life. Highly recommended.
Originally published in Historical Novels Review, Issue 80, May, 2017.
Citation: Kightlinger, Rebecca. "A Fortune Foretold" Historical Novels Review 80 (May 2017), 46.
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