Book review: A Nearly Normal Family by MT Edvardsson

Wednesday, July 3, 2019 Permalink

This book is written by Swedish author MT Edvardsson and published (obviously) in Swedish. I often worry a little about translations because you may be missing some stunning prose in the author’s native language – and you’re at the mercy of the translator’s ability to transform not only the language, but the tone and underlying nuances of the original.

There were probably a few moments early on that it seemed an obvious translation but either the phrasing settled or I became inured to the style of the author and translator as I stopped noticing part-way through and overall I think translator Rachel Wilson-Broyles does the original justice.

Book review: A Nearly Normal Family by MT EdvardssonA Nearly Normal Family
by M.T. Edvardsson
Published by Pan Macmillan
on June 20th 2018
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 9781529008128, 9781529008135
Pages: 480

Nineteen-year-old Stella stands accused of the brutal murder of a man almost fifteen years her senior. She is an ordinary teenager from an upstanding local family. What reason could she have to know a shady businessman, let alone to kill him?

Stella’s father, a pastor, and mother, a criminal defense attorney, find their moral compasses tested as they defend their daughter, while struggling to understand why she is a suspect.

The book unfolds in three parts – though I didn’t realise that initially and assumed the story was all being told from the point of view of Adam Sandell. Pastor, husband and father. I liked Adam who seemed wise and self-reflective. He tells us he often performs baptisms in the morning and funerals in the afternoon…

It’s such a strange job I have, where life and death shake hands in the foyer. p 13

He (well his character or Edvardsson) talks a lot about God. It wasn’t preachy but more in an analytical way.

Throughout the years I have frequently encountered the false assumption that a belief in determinism is simply a natural by-product of my belief in God, as if I must consider my free will to be limited by God. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe man to be the living image of God. I believe in man.

Sometimes when I meet people who say they don’t believe in God, I ask which god it is they don’t believe in. They often proceed to describe a god I certainly don’t believe in either. p 27

All three family members take turns in narrating this story. Though it’s not necessarily done concurrently or sequentially. Some parts of their stories cross over and others fill gaps we’ve missed.

I really liked Adam and he seems more than willing to regret past decisions and desperate to find proof his daughter was not capable of murder. (Albeit partially because of what it would mean about him – as a parent.)

I guess that sets the scene a little for when we move to Stella and she paints her father as a controlling and paranoid figure – much changed from the man who took primary care of her when she was younger.

And then there’s Ulrika who seems to take control after Stella’s arrested but – from the points of view of her husband and daughter – has been largely absent for much of her daughter’s life; emotionally ‘remote’ and career-driven.

So it’s interesting to see how each of the characters perceive themselves and each other. There is some cross-over I guess and so it’d be easy to take the ‘two-out-of-three’ approach. But, as we’re in all of their heads we can see how each of the characters could be erroneously perceived by the other two.

On the periphery we meet Stella’s life-long best friend, a recent lover (aka the murder victim), Stella’s attorney and we’re briefly introduced to a few other players in the police service and prison system.

I really had no idea how this was going to play out so Edvardsson sets the mystery up beautifully. Is Stella guilty, or not? She certainly seems it. Mostly. Others are certain however that she isn’t.

The blurb implies her father believes her to be innocent but in fact he’s one of the first to doubt her; to acknowledge her violent tendencies and suspect she would indeed be capable of murder.

And because Adam’s story goes first we’re privy to the stupid things he does when trying to investigate the case himself though I felt sorry that his enthusiasm was viewed so suspiciously and got him into so much trouble.

Stella’s the next cab off the rank and – though she’s mostly fairly unlikeable – once we’re in her head it’s harder to grimace at her behaviour and attitude. She’s kinda pragmatic and more self-aware than one would assume.

I probably felt less engaged with the character of Ulrika – as she’s seen through her husband and daughter – and even once she becomes our narrator.

There were a few inconsistencies in the book. In terms of Stella’s behaviour and that of the other key players – whether we’re meant to be mislead or they’re meant to be misunderstood. There’s early mention of Adam and Ulrika opting for minimal intervention from ‘institutions’ in relation to Stella, but later we learn she saw a number of psychologists and therapists. Similarly there were also a few repetitious points (Adam’s love of all-things-Italian, for example).

I enjoyed the twists in this novel and did wonder perhaps if Edvardsson might have thrown a few more in, but liked that characters appeared in shades of grey rather than being overly nefarious.

This was a good read and I think it would actually be a great film as I can imagine it playing out piece by piece with the truth finally being uncovered towards the very end. (And for those who like closure… it is. I did think for a while that it might have an open-ended finish or there might be some devious finger-pointing at the last minute. But all was good in that respect.)

A Nearly Normal Family by MT Edvardsson was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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