It’s been three and a half years since I restrained myself from psycho thrillers. I read one accidentally last time, expecting some innocent historical fiction. Well, this „innocence” resulted in me dreading from being watched, even from the old neighbour guy’s every movement at night when he went to the corridor toilet. I even called the landlady, asking if I can put an extra curtain on the window. (I never did this, because the novel’s influence disappeared after a few days.)
And now I started to read a book that is clearly referred to as a psycho thriller in its description. It’s partly some healthy masochism, and partly because this way I had the chance to prepare of what to expect. Actually, I got what I expected on some level, but I also got something else on another. I’m talking about the Norwegian writer Ida Hegazi Høyer’s novel Forgive Me, that won the EU Prize in 2015.
It’s almost a cliche that bloodcurdling crime stories and thrillers, modern day equivalents of Lord of the Flies and Crime and Punishment are mostly coming from Scandinavia nowadays. Because it’s a cold area, people don’t see the Sun for months, they are getting lonely and depressed, they drink too much, commit crimes and get punished, they die. This is Forgive Me’s starting point as well, and it might be read as a crime story, because there is indeed some inquest, gut-wrenching tension and secrets revealed. But there is no detective or police, wrongdoing and jurisdiction. The storyteller is „simply” a girl, or more likely a bitter and disillusioned woman, who is remembering the time between her 20th and 22nd years. And there is (naturally?) a man, addressed in this second person singular story, whom the girl bestowed her youth years.
The first part of the novel tells the beginning and the development of this certain relationship. This is a very intense part that I enjoyed very much – feeling horrible during that, but that was the writer’s intention and she did a totally good job. Why did I feel horrible then? Not only because of the darkness and scariness of the situation, but because of its credibility. I know lots of girls like the protagonist in real life, and I’ve heard dozens of stories of “marvellous men” in whom they found their “better half”. It’s often the better case when these love stories end in a simple disappointment. There are, unfortunately, much worse things to happen as well (just search for statistics about violence against women). Or, to think of literature, the narrator of Forgive me is a bit similar to the one of Hello Sadness.
So there is this unfortunate and naïve girl who could be any of my closest friends, and whom I just want to shout at: “Wake up, you idiot, it’s not normal how you two live, how you see this man, how you define your growing personality solely in a relationship!” Then the protagonist really starts to mature and finds more and more things suspicious. She starts to investigate her fiancé’s past and some unspoken issues, which results in a scene full with tension and excitement. It’s simply impossible to put down the book at this part.
I can list as a flaw that from this point, the writer can’t enhance the plot anymore, it gets slower in the end, repeats itself and is quite predictable. But let me admit that with my nerves (see the beginning of this review), it was more like a positive experience. The crime-thriller story transforms in a tragic love story in the very end, which let me work up everything emotionally. So I could accept the inevitably tragic end, which was obvious from the very first chapter of the novel.
To sum up, this is a very well written, credible novel that we can read as a love story with a sad end or a bloodcurdling psycho thriller. The smart mixture of these genres and the dominance of the former in the end make sure that even readers with bad nerves won’t lose their sleep.
(And if you like to listen to background music while reading, I recommend this song from an oldtime favourite album of mine, also Scandinavian “by accident”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HnOFwqpLRQ )