Astrid and Veronika, by Linda Olsson

Astrid and Veronika, by Linda Olsson, is a beautifully written story of female friendship. The novel begins on a cold, blustery March night in a rural setting just north of Stockholm. Snow and ice still cover the ground. Veronika Bergman, a writer in her early 30s, has come to Sweden from New Zealand to recover from the death of her fiance. She has rented a house, and hopes to reconcile her grief through writing. But the scene around her is foreboding:

"The neighbouring house was a silent shadow, looming in the darkness beyond the tunnel of light where she walked. The air was dry and cold and her breath left her lips in whiffs of white vapour dissolving in the night. The sky was a black infinity without stars or moon. She felt as if she had dropped through a tunnel into a world of absolute silence." (p. 2)

The inhabitant of the other house, so hauntingly described, is Astrid Mattson, known as "the neighboring witch." An elderly woman, she sits by the window in darkness, watching Veronika. Gradually, she comes to know Veronika's walking habits, and watches her go out each morning. When Veronika does not appear for a few days, she breaks her lonely vigil and knocks on her door. Finding her unwell, she brings her food. From this, a friendship blooms. Tentatively, Veronika asks her along on her walks, and the two begin to confide in each other. Grief, stemming from different sources, weighs on them both.

Astrid and Veronika were raised by single fathers, having lost their mothers at a young age. But while Veronika had a close relationship with her dad, Astrid's was icy. Her father is described as austere and loveless, and the suicide of her mother is linked to him. Moreover, as Astrid reveals more of herself, we discover that she hides shocking secrets. Veronika does not flinch at these confessions. Because of her compassion, Astrid is able to forgive others as well as herself.

Linda Olsson is an evocative writer. There are echos of Ingmar Bergman in this book. The barren and dark landscape of a Swedish winter contrasts markedly with the verdant plenty of summer. When Astrid takes Veronika into the woods to pick berries, the reader is struck by its wild beauty. The summer marks a rebirth in nature and in the feelings of the characters. The present and future are no longer foreboding. Each character has reconciled with the past.

Astrid and Veronika

Check our Catalog is a novel that would lend itself to discussion. It is, in fact, on the agenda for our book club. Join us at Glencoe Public Library on Wednesday evening, October 6th, at 7:30 p. m.

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