by Christina Meldrum
This is a strange one. Aslaug is an unusual young woman- she has grown up in total isolation with her mother. They forage for food in the nearby forest, use herbs for medicines and live without most modern conveniences. She\’s not unintelligent- Aslaug\’s mother taught her to read (in several languages) and verses her in botany, science and the mythologies of numerous ancient religions. But the mother keeps secrets, blacks out passages from the books Aslaug has access to and presents some erratic behavior to say the least. When her mother dies, Aslaug is abruptly introduced to the modern world. She is very ignorant of cultural norms, her social skills are rough and her inability to judge others\’ intentions makes her seem endearingly innocent in one moment, rude in the next. What really charmed me was her way of filtering and describing everything via her understanding of botany- she attributed plant characteristics to all sorts of things around her. It was a very different way to see the world (a bit reminiscent to me of how the narrator in Aquarium described so many things as if they were in an aquatic realm).
The story really revolves around Aslaug\’s trial- when a neighbor sees her attempting to bury her mother\’s body in the backyard, he calls the cops and Aslaug is suspected of murder. A social worker assigned to her case looses track of her, but Aslaug herself locates her mother\’s family- their very existence had been kept secret from her- and finds herself in another place detached from reality. They are members of a fundamentalist christian sect. The second half of the book wasn\’t quite as engaging for me- but I kept reading to see what the end result would be. Not what I expected! When Aslaug first meets the family I kept wondering whose version was reality- her cousin kept telling her certain things, her aunt had a completely different take on it all, and then when things got really weird I started wondering if Aslaug herself was an unreliable narrator. I don\’t usually like mysteries, nor do I always enjoy books that jump around in time- this one skips constantly between the trial with snippets of others\’ testimony and versions of events, and Aslaug\’s more narrative description of what happened. But in this case it worked for me.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5 410 pages, 2008