Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs

Book Review

This book was published by Penguin in 2005. It is the first novel from Linda Olsson, a New Zealand author of Swedish origin.  She uses both of her national “belongings” to stunning effect in this book of vivid description.

Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs by Linda Olsson

Linda Olsson wrote this book during a year of postgraduate study at the University of Auckland, under the much revered tutelage of Witi Ihimaera and Stephanie Johnson.

In the novel, her protagonist, Veronika, is an author who has retreated to the countryside of Sweden to write her second novel.  Veronika’s neighbour, the strange and reclusive Astrid, against all odds, becomes her friend.  The secrets and sadnesses they carry become the dialogue of their unlikely friendship.  Their kindnesses to one another forge a pathway for them both to return to a place of acceptance and love for themselves.

Bo Bergman ‘Sleepless’

Veronika, has run all the way from the hard light and treacherous coast of New Zealand.  Astrid is still running, from the terrors and loneliness of her youth.  Together, they walk the forests and fields of a gentle rural idyll in companionable silences; sharing only what is necessary, relieving each other of burdens as they come to know one another. Marking the passing of each season.  Their own growth follows the cycle of the natural world. Then, one full year after Veronika arrives, decisions for the future must be made. The shifting scene will change everything, for both women, forever.

This novel is a delicately woven tale of the strength of two women, solitary unique souls who have found love, experienced loss and lived, alone, on moments of memory until stumbling into a need of sustenance.  It is a tribute to the importance of community, of sharing.  Of feeling comfortable in the company of like-minded, non-judgemental souls.  I found Linda Olsson’s writing to be a warm and comfortable read; the wrapping around of soothing sounds.  Her style is itself a gentle song.

I liked her portrayal of women at different stages in their life, in this I felt she handled the subject of grief with deep understanding and respect.  Her description of summer-time country Sweden was evocative.  I felt I could see the quality of the light, the wildflowers, the little hillside hamlets and running rivers.  The words around the swimming in the lake made me feel like I too might float, for the first time, looking up into the great dome of blue.

I particularly loved the use of Swedish poetry throughout the book.  Poets like Karin Boye, Dan Andersson, Bo Bergmann, Edith Sodergran. I enjoyed reading them in Swedish and in English, sounding out the unfamiliar words; as the melody of the Swedish words seemed to hold just as much pleasure/ pain/ poignancy as the meaning.  Linda Olsson has woven them into her narrative with skill and artistry.

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This book is a beauty to look at.  I particularly loved the matt green of the inside covers, peeping out as I read.  But don’t judge the book only by it’s cover.  It is also a beauty to linger over the words.  I look forward to the author’s next foray into writing.  She has something special and I want to read more.

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