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Mankell, Henning - 'Depths' (translated by Laurie Thompson)
Hardback: 416 pages (Oct. 2006) Publisher: Harvill Secker ISBN: 1843432633

In Stockholm, 1914, around the beginning of the First World War, Lars Tobiasson-Svartman is a naval engineer who makes depth soundings to find navigable channels for the Swedish navy. Married to Kristina Tacker he is very much a loner who avoids the company of other men aboard ship, he even finds secluded spots on the ships so that he can sit unobserved. He is obsessed with measurement and using his sounding lead (which is submerged beneath the sea to obtain measurement readings) even taking it to bed with him at night. On his expeditions from the ship he comes across a small island - a skerry - which seems uninhabited, but a young woman lives there alone in a primitive hut. She becomes another obsession for Lars and soon his already odd behaviour increases as he makes excuses to revisit the skerry and the woman - Sara Fredrika - with ultimately disastrous consequences for them all.

Henning Mankell is an excellent writer and I am sure the translation from the original Swedish is impeccable by the very experienced Laurie Thompson. Unfortunately the story is so depressing. Lars Tobiasson-Svartman is not a likeable character, very unemotional, lying to his wife and his fellow naval officers. Only his wife's father sees through him from the start. It must be part of the Swedish psyche to be introverted and gloomy. Take for another example the recently deceased filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Recalling the Kurt Wallander detective novels, he is a very depressed person, but the story and Kurt's colleagues and other characters compensate, unfortunately very little lifts the gloom in this story.

Near the end of the novel when his lies are about to be revealed and he cannot keep pretending his is still on a secret mission the book picks up and the ending is well planned if still depressing for most of the characters but slightly uplifting for others. I personally prefer his detective fiction rather than this psychological thriller.

Geoff Jones, England
August 2007

last updated 22/03/2008 14:50