The murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard are a tragic reminder of the menace of misogyny and male violence in society. Yet too often our focus is on that moment of violence and on the killer, not the victim. We empathise but are detached from the trauma of the victim’s family and friends. What of the victims’ lives, and the many like them who suffer a similar fate? Stridsberg immerses us in the life of one such woman, Kristina, and the legacy she leaves behind her. This is a deeply moving portrait of a life cut short, free of judgement but rich in insight and compassion – made all the more profound and intriguing by its reflections on the victim and its lack of focus on the perpetrator. The act of killing is no longer the defining moment in Kristina’s life; no longer an end. This is about the mark Kristina made on the world. Her complex, chaotic life, with all its sorrows, pain and suffering, is not barren of joy; for tragedy can only be experienced where there is love.
Kristina’s murder is brutal, and yet also banal and tawdry, her assailant pathetic and insignificant. This is not a murder mystery; rather, it is a meditation on society’s most insidious and pervasive crime: violence against women. Kristina is twenty-four and living in Stockholm when she meets the man who will, shortly afterwards, drive her to a forest, strangle her, dismember her body and discard her. Kristina will eventually be found by a dog walker.
The Antarctica of Love contrasts soaring prose with stark passages of cold cruelty and tragedy, and all-consuming moments of unbearable suffering. When Kristina dies she leaves behind her estranged parents, a sick husband and two young children, Valle and Solveig. In a chronologically fluid narrative, we roam the wasteland of Kristina’s life. She was neglected by her warring parents, thrown into foster care, and had felt the tragedy of losing someone close. Entering adult life poorly equipped and damaged by her experiences, Kristina fell into drug addiction, sex work and young pregnancy. The unhappiness of her life begs the question of how resigned to circumstances she might have become.
‘The syntax of death was this: if she said it was a tragedy, so painful was the understatement, she found it difficult to breathe. She found it hard to breathe all the time. And if she said she wanted to die, it just sounded like something you say when you’ve made a spectacle of yourself at the party. Besides, she had been saying she wanted to die for as long as she could remember.’
After her death we witness her mother, Raksha, struggling with her loss, and son Valle falling into some of the same traps as Kristina did. But for all the brutality and pain in her life, we sense the love too – a real, unbreakable bond that exists even when people seem to spend all their time hurting each other and adding to each other’s misery. This is a novel about love and loss and fragility. Every life has a weight, even one that some might say was not well lived. Stridsberg’s novel is brave, and it couldn’t be more relevant.
Reviewed by Paul Burke
THE ANTARCTICA OF LOVE
by Sara Stridsberg
Translated from Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner
Published by MacLehose Books (2021)
October 2021 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.
Paul Burke writes The Verdict column for nbmagazine.co.uk, interviews, articles and features for crimefictionlover.com, crimetime.co.uk and presents for Crime Time TV&FM podcast. Paul is a book collector, lover of literature in translation and a crime fiction aficionado.
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