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Pickle Me This

August 8, 2007

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

“People assume those in mourning aren’t thinking clearly,” explains Clarissa, the heroine of Vendela Vida’s novel Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. “Ha! My brain was a razor. A flesh-eating predator.” With prose stripped so bare, this spare and understated narrative follows Clarissa on a journey to Lapland after she learns the man she called her father wasn’t her father at all. Her other relationships are similarly hollow: her brother has Down’s Syndrome and doesn’t communicate; her fiance says he loves her and she pretends to be asleep; Clarissa’s mother disappeared when she was fourteen, leaving her in a bakery because, as the woman at the counter reported, “she got tired of waiting.” Clarissa is incredibly alone, but all the while this thought runs through her head like a mantra: There must be someone else… There must be someone I’m closer to.

Seeking this “someone” Clarissa escapes to the north of Finland, directed by clues to her real father’s identity. What follows is a quest of sorts, but one much diverted, exhausted. It’s fascinating, however, to learn more about this part of the world so unknown to me and Vida paints a sense of place so well– a place which lends itself to this “razor-sharp prose” in its own barreness. Reading this story was a curious experience however– I was not ultimately sure that I liked it. The prose, the choice and spare details, the traumatized voice all seemed much like what would be found in a short story, and to have it sustained for the length of a novel didn’t feel quite right. A certain superficiality seemed the result, but then, oh, I read the end. The end of this novel is magic spun out of gold– surprising, risky, realized and incredibly satisfying. Casting the entire novel in a different light than I’d been viewing it in all along, and the fact was I loved it. Which I couldn’t have told you twenty pages from the end, but from the final sentence, clearly it was so.

~And when I would hear people say that you can’t start over, that you cannot escape the past, I would think You can. You must.~

*Check out Tim’s review of this book at Baby Got Books.

One thought on “Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida”

  1. Tim says:

    I think that you were spot on about how the book unfolds. I didn’t know that I was going to love it either until the end. I wasn’t sure how to convey that with out spoiling the plot, but you pulled it off very well.

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