Maja Norberg is on trial for her involvement in a school shooting which left several people, including her boyfriend Sebastian (the primary shooter) and her best friend, dead. She says she killed her friend by accident and her boyfriend in self-defense. But who is Maja, really? To the prosecution, she’s the devil. To the defense, she’s a scapegoat. As she awaits her verdict, Maja narrates the events leading up that fateful day, and her contribution to it.
Whilst it’s a crime novel, Quicksand is more of a drama than a thriller. It has a somber, understated tone which I think reflects its Scandinavian origin – addressing a thorny subject with contemplation rather than sensationalism and/or shock twists. The book flits between the present day trial and Maja’s recounting of past events. I was impressed by how the author created a convincing courtroom atmosphere without going overkill on the detail, which is not an easy feat for a lawyer-turned-writer.
I wrestled with myself in this review and it comes down to Maja – I just didn’t know what to make of her. I still don’t. The title alludes to her feeling sucked into her life; trying to break free only entrenches her further and turns the situation deadly. At times she’s astute, furious, lashing out at her accusers and taking a hammer to Sweden’s reputation as a progressive country. The use of first person narration works really well here because she addresses the reader directly and says very clearly ‘I know what you think of me’. It reminded me of the Amanda Knox trial, specifically how much of the public judgment came down to a media-fed character assessment.
Other times, she’s surprisingly mediocre. If you believe her version of events (which I did, there is no suggestion of Gone Girl-style duplicity here), then her role in the shootings was incidental. She blames herself for what she sees as a betrayal of Sebastian which tipped him over the edge. Part of me was glad that she wasn’t written as a cold-blooded villain as she would have felt less believable as a character, but it meant I had to read a lot of the standard trials and tribulations of adolescence. While it’s well written, it just wasn’t enough to keep me interested for the entire novel. The pace picked up towards the end and I did find myself racing through to find out the verdict.
Overall, while Quicksand didn’t fully hit the mark for me, the author has dealt sensitively with a difficult topic whilst still producing an engaging crime story. It’s a book that will definitely provoke discussion and so I recommend it for a future GBC meeting.