Artis-Ann , Features Writer
No Monsters…Only People : The Last Snow By Stina Jackson
“The village is a black hole that sucks them in and will never let them leave,” says Vidar to his young grandson, and that is what happens to the reader with this Nordic Noir novel. Slowly, oh so slowly, you are sucked into the life of Liv, her son, the seventeen year old Simon, and her father, Vidar, living together in ‘a desolate farmhouse in a forgotten corner of Lapland’. It seems there is no sign of Father Christmas here. Vidar is a very wealthy old man who lives like a pauper, with his family, in a near-derelict cottage, not even allowing his daughter a chainsaw, leaving her to chop logs with a hand axe; he wouldn’t waste his money on such luxuries, nor a new car, nor indeed anything else which might make their lives more comfortable. He blames his daughter for her mother’s suicide and controls every aspect of her life – at least, as far as her rebellious streak will allow him. That is until the night he is murdered, out in the woods, and the search for his assailant begins, suspicion rippling through the small community. No one liked Vidar who, for years, had ‘lined his pockets at other people’s expense’ and perhaps someone wanted back what they thought was rightfully theirs.
Will Liam ever break free from his controlling sibling and make the new life he craves for him and his young daughter, Vanja?
The locals are a disparate crowd; but news is news and gossip inevitable, despite their poverty. For Liv, there is sympathy even though they have never understood why she stayed at home, especially if there was all that money. They knew her father didn’t treat her well. About Simon, there was a curiosity as to his parentage, hinted at frequently throughout the novel but never confirmed.
Niila holds no grudges and is prepared to give anyone a chance, offering a job and self-respect to both Liv and Liam. Gabriel and Liam are brothers. Once inseparable as local drug dealers, they are now on different paths yet dragged together too often, for unwholesome reasons. Will Liam ever break free from his controlling sibling and make the new life he craves for him and his young daughter, Vanja? Hassan is the face of law and order, prepared to do what he must but with a kind heart. Johnny, the incomer, loves Liv but is not entirely honest; Douglas and Eva are parents of Felicia and at risk of losing everything; Liv once, long ago, saw Juha as her means of escape, and Karl-Erik is distantly related to Vidar. These are the main players; every community has its characters and each has a role to fulfil.
The slow pace of the novel, the lack of meaningful dialogue and thoughts unspoken, can be off-putting but enthralling at the same time. The isolated setting further intensifies the emotions, leaving the reader mesmerised, as the narrative slowly unfolds. Curiosity is most definitely aroused: just how will this play out?
The identity of the murderer is revealed and ultimately Liv comes to understand and accept that the only thing which can save someone is the truth. “Lies follow[you] like a cold shadow through life, [growing] bigger and heavier.” Dark secrets destroy you slowly. It seems she has a hard decision to make but looked at in this way, it’s the only one.
The isolated setting further intensifies the emotions, leaving the reader mesmerised, as the narrative slowly unfolds...
Told from two different time frames, the narrative is hard to follow at first but as the reader falls into step, it becomes clearer. The back stories are vital to understand the motivations of the characters and to discover the truth. Liv’s desperation is hard to take, her father’s control, monstrous. It is a sad little family, living among - but apart from - other sad little families, where bitterness, mistrust and history sustain side by side.
The moral at the end rings true and offers hope. Certainly, the reader hopes Liv will find happiness and that she and Simon will eventually find peace.
The Last Snow is published by Corvus