Plumbing the depths

Depths by Henning Mankell is the most peculiar book. At times lyrical and beautifully written, it is also the oddest storyline. Set during the early days of the First World War, Lars Tobiasson-Svartman is a naval engineer, who is sent out to take depth soundings off the Swedish coast. He longs to find a bottomless depth, but (and presumably this is why the book is so entitled) only finds it within his own soul. His passion for a strange lonely woman on a remote island will lead to murder and madness.

This book is just plain weird, the naval engineering storyline is interesting and well told, the Nordic landscape is typically well evoked, but the rest of it, the central storyline was just odd. I didn't get Svartman's motivation, or the motivation of the girl, or why the wife (who didn't seem to like Svartman much in the first place) went mad. I didn't understand it at all.

Yes, there is the Nordic gloom that you associate with Wallander, and some of the characters have odd glimpses of the Wallander cast in them, but it's a strange read that seems to promise a lot more than it delivers. Atmospheric, but ultimately, and ironically, lacking depth.


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