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I had heard about QUICKSAND by Malin Persson Giolito at a publisher preview and could not wait to get my hands on it. The opening pages drew me in quickly and laid the facts out succinctly. A mass school shooting has happened at a prep school in a wealthy Stockholm suburb. Maja Norberg is on trial for her role in the attack, which killed her boyfriend, as well as her best friend. What happened is pretty clear, until it is not.
The book is narrated by Maja. She was in the room during the shooting, but should we trust her point of view? What did she do in that room, what did she see, what is she telling the truth about and what is she hiding? She is one unreliable narrator, but she is the one we have!
Readers are inside Maja’s cell with her, feeling her isolation. We are voyeurs at the table when she meets with her lawyers to plot the strategy for her defense. Her story knocks us around as we hear bits and pieces, and try to formulate what happened from in that room and in the days and months leading up to it. There are times that she exhibits bravado, but it’s only veneer-thick. Other times, especially when relating to her boyfriend Sebastian, we see a confused teen who clearly is in over her head.
The pacing is not brisk, but it reflects the often torturous slowness of the legal system and its many delays. Here we see this from the point of view of someone on trial, including how weekends loom when court is not in session and one is sequestered to a cell to ruminate. There are tons of very tiny details, parsed out in nuggets, that all need to add up. And here, while the story seems black and white, there are a few murky details that blur what we thought were obvious lines.
Persson Giolito has practiced law, and thus her walking readers through the legal process has us seeing the snail’s pace with which justice is meted out, as well as the tediousness of it as we are in Maja’s head.
For book groups, this is a good thriller to discuss, including how the story is constructed and paced, the life challenges of teens today, the ever-present fear of violence in a school setting, and the way so many tiny things impact a major event.