Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel

Never Coming Back is a story about cruelty and sin, redemption and revenge, and it’s one of the darkest novels I’ve ever read.

Hans Koppel doesn’t hold anything back in this story, in which he depicts a far from perfect world; a world where young people torture their schoolmates and where some other people need to take the law into their own hands to deliver justice. But do two wrongs make one right?

The moral dilemmas in this novel are aplenty, and its characters are nothing but innocent. It doesn’t matter if they are good at heart or not. It doesn’t matter if they are the victims of their own weaknesses, and yes, it doesn’t matter if they’ve regretted their past actions. What matters is that they did something wrong, and, sooner or later, they’ll have to pay for it.

But even those of them who have no dark secrets to hide seem quite unhappy, living desperate lives, struggling to survive in a world that they really don’t like.

“Look at me: unmarried, no children, a reporter for a weekly. I do saccharine interviews with washed-up TV celebrities and village eccentrics, write racy short stories about young women at their peak, twenty-seven years old. Short stories are read by women who are seventy-two. Same numbers, just inverted. I have no ambitions, no prospects. My only luxury in life is ice-cream in summer, a beer in the pub and sometimes, when the urge takes me, a trip to the cinema in the middle of the week.”

And this is one of the characters that, with difficulties or not, lives a quite straight-forward life. His ups and downs are all the same, repeated time and again, unlike those concerning some of the other people in this story; people like Ylva, who’s just been kidnapped by a sadistic couple and held hostage in the basement of a house, just across the street from her own, and like Mike, her husband, a man who doesn’t really love her, but is afraid to admit it, even to himself.

The complexity of their relationship is one of the most important elements in this story. Ylva is the strong one, the one who sets the rules, and Mike is the guy who just goes along, following in her footsteps, rather than walking by her. Her abduction comes as a shock to him, even though for some time he thinks that she’d just run away with another man. But no, he says, no, she would never abandon Sanna, their eight year old daughter.

So in here we have three victims, but we have three villains as well, since Ylva’s act is a double one: the couple who took her, did it in order to avenge something she did more than twenty years ago; something that have changed their lives forever.

The author asks big questions the answers to which are nothing but simple, and, as it usually is the case with Swedish writers, he thrashes to pieces the notion of an ideal world that foreigners have for his country. He makes a joke out of the cops, he has a good go at the press, he reflects on the xenophobia and he brings to light the darkness that lurks in the hearts of even the most respectable people.

Never Coming Back is a novel that’s easy to read but not so easy to stomach. There’s too much violence in here but there’s too much truth as well. This is not a perfect world, people are no angels, and it’s an author’s duty to point that out. And Koppel does that in a great way, delivering to us an intense and gripping novel that’s well worth reading by every crime fiction aficionado, or even from anyone who just wants to forget about the princesses of the past and the modern day fairytales and take a look at the dark side of life.

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