Shame, by Karin Alvtegen – a Swedish thriller

by Peter

In Shame, Karin Alvtegen’s exploration of human emotions continues. This time it is the common, perhaps all too common, Shame, by Karin Alvtegen feeling of Shame that occupies the center stage. Here, as in the other books by Alvtegen, this one emotion is singled out, turned into the primary or most important emotion in the lives of key characters, and inserted into a plot where events trigger responses more or less dictates by the strongly held feelings of the characters.

Like the other books by Karin Alvtegen, this psychological thriller is a book without detectives, policemen or even heroes. Her writing style are in many ways similar to that of Inger Frimansson.  Thus it is not really a crime novel, but something else, something more.

The main characters in Shame are two women that on the outside are extremely different. Maj-Britt, one of them, is fat, very fat, and intensely ashamed of her body. She is so over weight that she can no longer function normally, and is she lies down or falls, she cannot get up without assistance. In Shame, the fat on her body in a sense serves as a layer between Maj-Britt and real life. A layer she badly needs. For under the thick layer of shame over her body, Maj-Britt hides another layer of shame, even more damaging – shame associated with event that took place during her youth in a very strict, religious Swedish family, where sex was shameful and a taboo. Maj-Britt is highly intelligent, but has lost interest in contact with others. Instead she uses her intelligence as a weapon to keep people that threaten her to keep a distance or scare them off.

Monika, on the other hand, is a very successful doctor, lives in a beautiful, expensive house, is well off economically, and is admired by colleagues and friends. But underneath the successful surface is a small, scared human being with extremely low self-esteem who knows what to do to appear skilled, in control, and successful, but in reality cultivates this image in order to deflect attention from herself. She demands perfection of herself always, both professionally and personally. And under the surface she carries a burning shame dating back to the death of her brother. She could have saved him. If only she had done what was expected of her, and what she had promised, he would still have been alive.

Karin Alvtegen lets Maj-Britt and Monika go through events that revive all their evil memories, and the leads them toward one another, forces them together. In the process, the excitement builds – what will happen? How bad will it be? How will their lives change?

Shame is well written, intense, intelligent and entertaining. It is very well worth reading. Karin Alvtegen is a master when it comes to describing the power of irrational emotions, the brains capability to repress things that is too painful to remember, and the consequences when bad memories can no longer be avoided and must be confronted!

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