This week’s Monday Book is reviewed by Kate Belt
Many recent novels have dealt in a comic way with the theme of older folks rebelling against the loss of independence and beating the system that infantalizes or abuses them. This is not that novel, though it is not without humor After Wendy recently reviewed one of those and didn’t love it, I suggested this book as a more satisfying read. That’s how I find myself writing this review.
After some medical incidents, 96 year-old Doris cannot return to her Stockholm apartment and mostly independent lifestyle, but resists being taken into care. Her beloved niece, her only living relative, comes from California to support Doris in whatever comes next. She finds an address book in her aunt’s home with decades of entries. It is up to date. Many names are crossed out and noted as “dead.” She also finds a box of vignettes written about each person in the book. These shed light on Doris’ life history, spanning many decades from pre-WWII to the present.
After her dear father died, Doris’ mother sent her into service at age 11. Doris’ employer eventually moves to Paris taking her along. An agent from a top modeling house notices the tall, beautiful, 13 year-old Doris. With her mistress’ blessing, she becomes a runway model, leading to adventures, travel, and opportunities far beyond the station to which she was born.
This novel has the common themes of ageism, life review, perserverance, courage, and family betrayal, . Lundt addresses them in a fresh and original narrative. It is almost equally atmospheric, character driven, and event driven. Lundberg’s story telling and writing are excellent. Character development goes deep. It held my attention from beginning to end. The one weakness in the novel is the niece’s relationship with her children and husband in California waiting for her return. That part of the narrative and its resolution didn’t ring true for me, but they are a minor part of the story that could have been mostly omitted. I still loved the book and recommend it because it kept my attention from beginning to end. If you love novels with historical context and strong women navigating life’s challenges, this is for you.
I believe this book would have strong appeal for anyone who loved Alyson Richman’s The Lost Wife or Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. It might also be for fans of Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes.a Walk, but with less comedy.