Monday, 10 February 2014

A Bridge to the Stars

A Bridge to the Stars
Henning Mankell
London, Andersen Press, 2011, 171p

Despite being a huge fan of all things Scandinavian, I have not yet read any Henning Mankell, nor have I watched the television adaptations of his Wallander stories. So I thought I'd try to start somewhere accessible, where teenage fiction met Swedish crime.

Joel is a reserved, pensive young boy, living in the forests of Sweden with his father, an ex-seaman. Joel and his father are quite content together, telling stories of far-away exotic lands his father once travelled to. His mother is no longer around, and Joel is curious, but occupies himself by establishing a Secret Society. One night, he sees a dog running through the streets of his town, and decides the society of one must set out to identify the dog. But when a new boy arrives in town and joins Joel's club, the society loses track of the original aims, becomming embroiled in naughty and dangerous activities.

A Bridge to the Stars is quite a slow paced novel, possibly in part because it is written in the present tense, which kept me on my toes whilst reading. I found I couldn't quite settle into it, as it never settled on being first or third person, always jumping between an omniscient narrator and Joel's internal monologue. It wasn't until right near the end when the action started to pick up, at which point I found myself oddly attached the the young protagonist.

I expected more from Mankell, if I am honest. Perhaps I should have started with some of his more established fiction from his adult collection, because although this book was relatively short, it was not accessible to a younger reader. The language was complicated and the pace was too measured, and I suspect many teenage readers would get bored quite quickly. And while the structure may have been more suitable for a young adult or more mature reader, the story and characters were too childlike for such an audience to engage with. It takes a very patient sort of reader to enjoy a book with so much detail and such delicate substance.

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