Giolito, Malin Persson. “Quicksand”, translated by Rachel Broyles-Wilson, Other Press, 2018.
A Courtroom Thriller
“Quicksand” is an unforgettable experience; it is a courtroom thriller, a drama that questions the nature of love, the side effects of guilt and the function of justice as well as a coming-of-age story. The story opens immediately after a mass shooting at an elite prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb. We meet eighteen year-old Maja Norberg, the only survivor of the shooting. This is her story.
The scene at the shooting is almost a mini-United Nations and/or a cross section of contemporary Swedish society with a homeroom teacher, a Ugandan foster child, a cashmere-wearing blonde and a son of Middle Eastern immigrants. Could it be that this is a satire of the country’s self-image of civilized multiculturalism. What we read here is Maria’s speech to an imaginary audience listening as she tries to make sense of what happened. Occasionally she speaks to us directly as she speculates as to what we might think about her and how we regard ourselves. The novel is structured as a courtroom procedural, yet it also is about Sweden’s economic and racial tensions.
Maja has confessed to killing her best friend, Amanda, and her boyfriend, Sebastian, at their school. She is on trial for the crimes. The book gives us a look at modern Sweden and its criminal justice system. Maja’s trial is the framework for learning the truth behind this terrible crime. Maja has spent nine months in jail awaiting trial and now the trial proceeds. We are taken back to the months leading up to the school shooting and learn about the turning point in Maja’s life: falling in love with Sebastian Fagerman, the son of Sweden’s richest businessman. Sebastian is full of charm and good looks but he is dangerous. As her relationship with Sebastian intensifies, Maja experiences the vulnerability of first love and the loss of touch with her parents and friends who do not hear her silent cries for help. How did popular, privileged, top student Maja become a cold-blooded killer in the eyes of the public?
Malin Persson Giolito gives us a perceptive portrayal of a teenage girl and a blistering indictment of a society that is coming apart. The book looks at wealth, class, immigration, and the games children play among themselves when parents are no longer aware of their struggles. “Quicksand” tries to provide a nuanced context to a school shooting. The story is told in linear fashion with jumps between the trial and Maja’s uneventful time at jail and to the time leading up to the shooting and the days right after it.
Maja is hardly a likeable character and this I will leave for you to discover yourselves. I believe she comes across this way so that we can see that she is hiding behind a tough attitude to protect herself, and for us to find her unlikable so that we will be more inclined to find her guilty. This is also a way for us to face our own prejudice.
The details of the story are given slowly and there is never any reason to doubt that each subsequent chapter will leave us more informed. “Quicksand” is soon to be a film from Netflix and if it is anything like the book, it will keep you mesmerized.