Broken, by Karin Fossum

Avid readers often wonder how a novel is created. How does a plot evolve? How do characters "come alive?"

Norwegian mystery writer Karin Fossum attempts to answer this question in Broken. In it, a novelist is awakened in the night by an intruder in her bedroom. That intruder is none other than one of her characters. Tired of waiting in line outside her window, he wants his story told now.

Thus begins this well-written and creative suspense story. The author, the "I" in the novel, is a driven woman, dependent on wine and pills. It is implied that she suffers from depression. The character she creates, Alvar Eide, is an intelligent man who manages an art gallery. Like the writer, he is a loner, unable to sustain friendships. But he is excessively needy and unable to make decisions. He is also unable to stand up for himself.

When a young woman, a heroin addict, knocks on the door of the gallery, Alvar lets her in and gives her hot coffee. In doing so, he opens the door to his insular way of life. The woman appears again, and eventually follows him home. When she arrives on his doorstep one night, Alvar lets her in. She gradually insinuates herself into Alvar's life, stealing a key to his apartment and coercing him to take money out of the bank. Her encroachment on his life confuses Alvar; he doesn't know how to say no. "What kind of world is this, where good leads to bad," he wonders. (p. 174)

Fossum's book is a departure from her Inspector Sejer series. It is a psychological thriller without a true crime. Although the title of the book is derived from the name of a painting in Alvar's gallery, it is clearly a metaphor. All of the characters are, in a sense, "broken," and in need of healing.

But the uniqueness of the Fossum's work is in its style. It is rare to see the workings of a writer's mind as she composes her story. But here we get a privileged look.

Lovers of mystery and lovers of literary fiction will both enjoy this unusual book.

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