Cover Image: The Antarctica of Love

The Antarctica of Love

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Wow. Take a deep breath before reading this. It isn’t easy but it’s brilliant. And it’s hard and it’ll have you thinking about it for a long time. Swedish translation book. Very well translated.
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Incredibly powerful and moving tale of drug addiction and its consequences, leading here to the brutal murder of a young woman, Inni, who narrates the story of her life from beyond the grave. We get to know her intimately, as she’s always honest and clear-sighted, but inherently unable to fight against what seems to be her inexorable destiny. Disturbing, haunting and heart-breaking.
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'The Antarctica Of Love' goes beyond the living eyes and delves into the consciousness of Inni, a former mother, drug user and wife. telling her story on how she came to meet her death in a forest on a dark and fateful night. 

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from this book due to a few other books that I had previously read about drug issues.  I was deeply mistaken.

Sarah Stridsberg's opening chapter just blew me away.  The writing is extremely descriptive throughout, and I really got a sense of knowing the surroundings, the characters, their emotions and the pain Inni endured in and after her lifetime.

'The Antarctica Of Love' is one of those reads that when you start, you soon find yourself intensely immersed.
It's dark, and it's edgy, and has all the right tools to keep you clinging to the edge of your seat, and I easily got annoyed when I had to put this book down.  Each page left me wanting more, but also wanting to devour what I had just read.

If you're after an easy read, then this book is plainly not for you.

If you have a penchant for timeline changes, expertly crafted writing and a stomach for death, then grab yourself a copy.
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The Antarctica of Love is an evocative, heartbreaking and searingly original novel and an unnamed woman's tale of her murder, her brief life, and the world that moves on after she left it. They say you die three times. The first time for me was when my heart stopped beating under his hands by the lake, and the second was when what was left of me was lowered into the ground in front of Ivan and Raksha at Solna Church. The third time will be the last occasion my name is spoken on earth. She was a neglected child, an unreliable mother, a sex worker, a drug user--like so many nameless victims of violent crime. But first she was a human being, a full, complicated person, and she insists that we know her fully as she tells her story from beyond the grave. We witness her short life, the harrowing murder that ended it, and her grief over the loved ones she has left behind. We see her parents struggle with guilt and loss. We watch her children grow up in adopted families and live imperfect lives. We feel her dreams, fears, and passions, even though we will never know her name. This is a heartrending existential drama by the acclaimed Swedish writer Sara Stridsberg.

The Antarctica of Love is an unflinching testament of a woman on the margins, a tale of family lost and found, and a report of a murder in the voice of the victim. This novel of life after death unfolds in brief vignettes, brimming with unexpected tenderness and hope. An award-winning author’s ferocious and poetic novel about the hatred of women deeply rooted in society, The Antarctica of Love is also a touching account of evil, loneliness, and maternal love. The story is told by Inni, a prostitute and drug addict whose life ends in a cruel way in a spruce by the lake. From the perspective of a dead woman, we look at a world where her children and parents and, of course, the murderer go on with their lives. As with Stridsberg in general, there is a real story behind this story, Sweden’s most famous chopping murder from 1984, where parts of the body of prostitute Catrine da Costa were found outside Stockholm. In its characteristic way, Stridsberg manages to elevate real, shocking events into an art that deals with big themes - this time female hatred, motherhood, and a chain of exclusion that has been going on for generations. Highly recommended.
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‘Everyone weeps apart from me, but something inside me has frozen. It isn’t just the tears, it is something else. A disillusionment so deep, so penetrating, the freezing point of blood, the ultimate Antarctica of love.’
In the dark woods, somewhere in Sweden, a young woman is about to be murdered. A junkie, working on the streets to feed her habit, she has willingly got into a stranger’s car and been driven to the outskirts of town.  She tries to escape, perhaps half-heartedly, but there’s an inevitability about what happens to her.  She is dismembered by her killer and the pieces of her flesh packed into 2 suitcases.  These are found but her head isn’t and neither is her murderer.  He remains anonymous – has he killed before? Will he kill again? We don’t know.  
As we share her final moments and then her afterlife, she describes how she ended up in this place with this man.  We don’t discover her actual name until halfway through the book, but she is known as Inni to her family and her circle of dubious friends.    The death of her younger brother, Eskil, who drowned in the river when she was meant to be looking after him has cast a long shadow over her life and her family.  He haunts her dreams until the very end and she sees the effects of his death on their parents, Raksha and Ivan, as Raksha becomes addicted to pills.  Inni begins to slide into drugs such as heroin and ends up sleeping on floors and in train stations.  She feeds her habit by going on the streets and exists on the margins of society.  But she meets Shane and they have a son called Valentino or Valle for short. But old habits die hard and she begins shooting up again despite Shane’s attempts to stop her and in fact she carries on during pregnancy.  Inni falls deeper and deeper into a downward spiral until she gets into a car with a stranger…..she is frozen inside as the quotation above says and she is almost looking for death.
The book takes place over 25 years as Inni is murdered in the ‘80’s and events such as the Falkland War and Aids are mentioned.  It’s told in flashback and the present day as she hovers, ghost like, over the people she knew.  It switches between the horrific murder and her past life and also the present day.  This can sometimes be hard to do convincingly and be confusing for the reader.  But here it worked really well.  
In many ways this is a bleak book but it is a convincing portrait of someone who felt dead to the world even before she was murdered.   But there is also tenderness and kindness. It reminded me very much of ‘The Lovely Bones’ but a much, much darker version as Inni realises that life will go on without her and she is powerless to stop the ripples from her own death affecting her family and her children.  In one of the most dramatic and poignant scenes she sees Valle’s life of isolation.
There are some beautiful descriptions of the woods, the trees, the nocturnal animals at the very beginning which contrast with the ugliness and horror of the scene being played out around them.  The opening scenes is scary and yet also breathtaking as it shows a writer in full control of their plot.  It is a literary fantasy and the translator has done a great job.  
Not a book for everyone but an accomplished story from a master storyteller.

My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an ARC.
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There are already quite a few novels on this site where the narrator is dead but this may be the most poignant. Our dead narrator is Kristine. A Swedish woman who really has not had a good life. When we first meet her, she is on her way to her death with the man who is going to murder her. She knows that he is going to kill her and she is not too concerned about it. I think I know what you want,” he had said. “I think I can give it to you.” He was talking about death, but I didn’t realise at the time. However, as she states this was a world I didn’t want to live in anyway and I longed for the sound of the coffin lid closing above me, for everything finally silenced. No birds, no sky, no light, no escape.

She had been born to Raksha and Ivan who were not particularly good parents and, by the time of her death, long since separated, though not formally divorced. They both drank heavily and, in later life, Raksha will spend her time popping pills. As well as Kristine, they had a son, Eskil. Eskil looked to Kristine, rather than his drunken parents for help and comfort. One day, the two went swimming. Kristine could swim well and dived down to look for beaver lodges, keeping an eye on Eksil when she resurfaced. On one occasion, he had disappeared. She searched in vain. She ran to her parents and, eventually, the body of Eksil was found. He was rushed to hospital but it was too late.

Her parents eventually separated and, after the age of fifteen, Kristine did not see Ivan again. She was often unhappy but, while still at school found solace with a friend, Nanna, who supplied her with heroin. There is somewhere else, an outside, with more room, or a truer place, a paradise that can rise up inside me at any moment, and it is the place I have been looking for all this time is how she describes her heroin fix.

She has her own relationship problems. She meets Shane and they have a son, Valle (short for Valentino). They decide to get married. She is pregnant at the time. By the time Solveig is born, the marriage is on the rocks. She puts Solveig up for adoption, knowing that she can never see her again. Eventually, Valle is taken away from her and fostered out to various people.

We learn all of the sad details of her life after her death as she gradually tells us them, including, in some detail, her murder and what the murderer did with her body. However, what makes this book interesting is what happens after her death. She says you die three times. In her case it was when he was murdered and then when her remains were buried. The third time will be the last time my name is spoken on earth. And so I am waiting for it to happen.

However, till the last time her name is spoken, she is still alive in spirit if not in the flesh. Two things happen as a result. The first is that she examines what happened in her life. Some of it I have already mentioned. In other cases she examines her own behaviour but also that of other close to her. Sometimes she is critical, particularly of herself, sometimes less so. She was critical of her parents – the only worthwhile thing they did for her, she says, was giving her a baby brother. She is critical but only mildly of her drug habit. It did help her escape a world she could not really cope with. And, as for Shane, neither of us was particularly good at anything.

However the other feature of her post-mortem life is that she can see what is going on with the people she knows. This includes, of course her children and her parents but it also includes the murderer. She wonders if her children think of her and how they are managing to cope with life and follows them over a period of years. And this is what hell is, watching your children live on without you. She also follows both her parents and their struggles. The murderer deliberately leaves clues and as his wife says, he becomes an empty shell.

No-one in this book has a happy life, often through poor choices but also because of incompetent parents. Kristine is a drug addict, a prostitute and irresponsible but still a loving if inadequate sister and mother. Having two drunkards as parents clearly was a key feature and partially explains why she gave up her daughter for adoption, so that she would have a better chance in life.

Her harrowing tale of her afterlife, from the description of the murder and what the murderer subsequently did to her remote viewing of what her family did are superbly told by Stridsberg and while we may feel that Kristine was far from perfect (at least we did our best comments Shane to which she responds In that case, Shane, our best was lousy) we very much feel for her as a person and her sad ending.
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This book was heartrending, dark, bleak and it was disturbing but I LOVED it. The writing was just beautiful and very moving. Inni was a heroin addict but there was much more to her. Inni tells the reader her story, jumping between her childhood, adulthood, and the present when she is dead and watching over her parents and children, and she returns to her murder throughout, each time with more detail, some pretty horrible. I can't do this book enough justice, but one of my favourites of the year so far. Stunning.
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I found this took some time to get into as its rhythm is quite unique. However, it is worth persevering. It reminded me in conceptual terms of Lucky Bones. A drug addict in Stockholm is brutally murdered and the body disposed of. This story is told by her, the victim as she describes her own death and the events throughout her life that led up to it. It also looks at the lives of her family after her death. It is a very moving, emotional read. Light and dark.
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When I started reading this book, I expected a story about a toxic relationship set in Sweden. What I got was an unexpected, sometimes disturbing story of a young person who fell through the helping mechanisms of Sweden's social security.

To make it short: I really liked it. The point of view is similar to "The Lovely Bones", but it is also a lot darker and got really under my skin. Even though this book has less than 300 pages, it has some dragging parts, but on the other hand there are parts where I had constant goosebumps and tears in my eyes. The strongest moments are probably the ones with the children involved.
The reason why I am not super enthusiastic is probably because I got kind of lost in the beginning. I lost track of the people involved and the jumps in the story's timeline confused me sometimes. I will definitely look out for other books by Stridsberg, maybe I'll give this book a second chance once I am in the right headspace for it.
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The Antarctica of Love is a hopeless lullaby, like a litany, a prayer that comes too late. At first, its repetitive character is rather unsettling. But soon the words and sentences fall into a rhythm and one can see a pregnant pattern in this cyclical construction. The lyricism of Deborah Bragan-Turner's translation is astounding. It is a very dark novel, there is no denying it: a tale of grief, of addiction, of failed motherhood, of loneliness, of violence, of death. But there is also love and beauty in it, like flickers of light through the darkness. I have just finished it, but I know already that this book will stay with me for a long, long time.
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Sara Stridesberg delivers a sad and poignant story about Inni. She is a tormented soul, living a life equally tormented by neglect in her childhood years, chaotic teenage years and dark choices as an adult and mother that lead her astray and to her demise. Inni is murdered. It is no secret. But how her life ceases to be in that moment is what carries through this book. The book trawls through Inni's life, the lives of her children, Valli and Solveig, her parents, and all those that remain as her life ends.

There is so much brutality and starkness round Inni, and even though she is around people (even the worst people) she is still alone, lonely and isolated. Inni in her death is lost in a void, and she 'roams' the earth following those who are left behind.  These people help to tell her story. As much as there is a disgust and dirtiness to the life of Inni, and her death, there is still tenderness and warmth. Inni's life was nowhere near perfect, and her death was violent and unforgiving; its recount is grim and graphic. We are not privy to who the murderer is. Yet they are methodical and planned in their actions. Almost polar opposite to Inni and her carelessness, neglect of her own children and love for getting high.

"The Antarctica of Love" is released on 30 September. Thanks @netgalley for the e-ARC..
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Absolutely exquisite writing. Sara Stridsberg is special and so is this book. It enveloped me by the first chapter. I am enamored of the story..

The book is a young woman describing her death throughout the story. Each time she describes her death you learn a little bit more about her, and her experience being killed and her very short life. This is not a happy tale but wondrous in its honesty. Not everyone has a great life and not everyone gets good parents.

It was like Sara interviewed a deceased homicide victim. Just an incredibly good book that puts you in another realm.
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I would like to extend my gratitude to the author, publisher and NetGalley for sending this advanced reader's copy in return for a fair and honest review.

I wanted to like this book as a lot of my fellow bookworms enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I did not. I felt that it could have finished earlier and dragged on a bit. There are a lot of issues raised in this book, not a lot of them good. Personally, I understand that it is good to highlight these issues in today’s society, but I just couldn’t like it.
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5/5 stars

“They say you die three times. The first time for me was when my heart stopped beating beneath his hands by the lake, and the second was when what was left of me was lowered into the ground at the Solna Church. The third time will be the last time my name is spoken on earth. And so I’m waiting for it to happen.”

The Antarctica of Love is one of those pieces of literature where it took me a while to “recover” and distance myself from the experience before I sat down to write a review. Now, after a bit of contemplation time, I can say with even more confidence that this was brilliant. Dark, bleak, harrowing and therefore possibly not for everybody, but absolutely brilliant.

The story begins with the brutal murder of a young woman, viewed through her eyes as her life is snuffed out and her body is scattered throughout the landscape. Her mind remains in our world, and scatters in a way of its own, silently haunting the people and the world she’s been ripped away from. From a strangely tranquil kind of afterlife, she observes the ripples left behind by her violent and chaotic life, marked by addiction and trauma, but also by love and hope.

It’s a novel that is laced with contrasts, that emphasize the power of both extremes. The ominous sense of threat and menace that many authors associate with themes of death, is starkly present in the sections about Inni’s life. Conversely, her existence after death is strangely calm and resigned as an almost unbiased observer.
Contrast is also present in the writing itself, which is lyrical and poetic, creating a stark contrast to the bleak content of the novel. This is my first work by Sara Stridsberg, but I have to say that I’m in awe of the grasp of language and verbal imagery that both the author and the translator have put on display here. Translators don’t get enough credit, but Deborah Bragan-Turner shows about as much talent as the author herself by writing such a stunning translation. It’s what carried the novel for me, and hammered home the deep emotional impact it’s left on me.

Upon finishing, part of me wanted to return to the beginning and re-read the whole thing. To appreciate this level of skill again, and to see if there’s anything new I can glean from a second viewing. Another part of me wants to never experience the visceral disturbance this book brought to me ever again.
If you’re interested in picking up The Antarctica of Love I highly recommend you do so, as long as you’re aware it’s a disturbing and dark read. If you’re up for it: it’s a masterpiece in writing and delivers everything it sets out to do.
If you’re interested in the premise of a young woman narrating her life story after her life has been ended at the hands of someone else I’d also recommend 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. It’s a bit more of an accessible read that feels a little less dark, so it may be a good alternative if you’re hesitant to get into this one. I highly recommend both.

The Antarctica of Love is available from September 30th onwards in stores and online. It’s also available in the original Swedish under the title Kärlekens Antarktis.
Many thanks to the publisher Quercus Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The beauty of this book lies in the way it is written. It is a true masterpiece of exquisite language and storytelling that drew me into Inni's world and her thoughts and feelings in such a powerful way. I loved being inside her head and reliving her life in snippets, moving back and forth between her murder, her childhood, and her battle with addiction. It was beautifully told and the author's grasp of the English language and her use of words and phrases was stunning. I absolutely adored it and can't wait to read more from this author.
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This book made me really question why I read fiction and what I hope to gain from it. There is real beauty in the writing style here, and that is always a good thing,  but the story is unrelentingly dark and depressing and if you want to read for pleasure, you would find only a rather twisted kind of pleasure here. It’s a novel idea for a murdered woman to be telling her story from beyond the grave and the reader soon realises that the murdered woman’s life was filled with neglect and horror, and that her end was violent in the extreme. This reviewer doesn’t shy away from dark themes or graphic descriptions of murder, but this book went a bit too far for me.
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3 stars (coming out Sep 30)

**Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.**
#TheAntarcticaofLove #NetGalley

Pros
+ Swedish woman in translation
+ A murdered woman (drug-addicted sex worker) drifts above life, recounting glimpses of her life in non-linear form, from the moment of her death to her childhood to her life on the streets.
+ The writing is really beautiful--grisly and dark--but beautiful.
+ This explores the gritty side of Swedish life, including childhood neglect and placement in foster care, drug use, life on the streets, sex work, and rape/murder/dismemberment of a sex worker.
+ Stridsberg's character and setting descriptions are evocative and infused with melancholia

Neutral
/ You do not find out who her killer is. This doesn't bother me, but if you're a reader who needs to know who did it when reading murder-mystery-type books then this might not be for you.

Cons
- I grew to hate the main character. She doesn't make excuses for what she did, but her actions are so unforgivable (child endangerment, unrepentant drug use, doing drugs while pregnant, not caring about anything anymore, etc.) that I really didn't care about hearing about her life anymore towards the end.
- The book is about 100 pages too long, in my opinion. A LOT of content is repeated over and over again. At first, I was fine with it, but then it just got really annoying to read through the repetitions in order to get to new scenes.

TW: rape (graphic), strangulation (graphic), dismemberment (graphic), drug use, drug use while pregnant, a child being taken away by Swedish CPS, suicide attempt, drug overdose, sex work
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Kristina is waiting to die, finally. She does not live anymore, she has been murdered and dismembered in the woods outside Stockholm, but she only really dies forever when her name will be spoken for the last time. So she floats in between the world and eternity, sees how her parents bury what has been found of her. She also visits her kids in their dreams, kids for whom she so hard wanted to be a good mother but unfortunately couldn’t be. Her life with Shane has always been a struggle and she somehow has always known that growing old wasn’t meant for her.

Sara Stridsberg’s novel is – despite the cruelty of the topic – wonderfully written and a poetic masterpiece. It opens with a description of what Kristina feels last, how she perceives nature during her last minutes when she is to become a part of the lake and the earth. It is also the story of a drug addict, a young woman who comes from a struggling family and does not find herself a place in the world and quickly relies on diverse substances to help her forget the darkness she finds outside and inside herself. It is a life lost, a life which could have become so much but didn’t.

It is heart-breaking to read the young woman’s account. How casually she tells the reader that at first, nobody misses her, neither her mother, nor her father who hasn’t seen her for years, nor her children. Yet, the later live a new life and her daughter might hardly remember her, too early in her life was she taken away and put into a foster family. Yet, this was the best Kristina could do for her, at least once in her life she did something right despite the feeling of loss.

When she was pregnant, she wanted to get clean, to be a good mother, to care for Valle and Solveig. However, the craving was always too strong, harshness of life always brought her back to the drugs. She feels ashamed for not having been able to care for the kids. But she has always lived in the darkness and the rare rays of light couldn’t lead her to another life.

A life not lived and yet, as humans, we are just a blink in eternity. In 2019, “The Antarctica of Love” was awarded Sveriges Radios Romanpris, a Swedish literary prize for the best novel of the year. It wasn’t the first time Stridsberg’s work was highly appreciated. She uses language in a unique way which does not only touch you profoundly but goes deep down into you and reaches you at your core having the novel make a deep impression that stings.
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It's taken me a while to think about this book and what rating I should give it. Yes, it is extremely depressing, almost relentlessly so but it is also beautiful. Philosophical shades of Brockmeir's The Brief History of the Dead I did find myself utterly absorbed in this book. There were times when it almost reduced me to tears, it was so poignant. Synopsis can be read on the backs of books and plot summaries have no place in reviews suffice to say that this is a the story of a murdered woman looking back at her life, the events leading up to her murder and the aftermath.
The translator has done, I assume an excellent job. This is one of those times when you wish you could read the original. Heartbreaking is an over used word but very apt in this context. This book will stay with you if you let it in. Believe me, despite the doom and gloom it is a very pertinent and acutely observed reflection on human life, mental health, drugs and societal attitudes. How quick we are to judge those who don't fit our worldview on how women, especially should behave. My regret is that these words may not do the book justice
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This was a heartbreaking story, that left me thinking for days. Without spoiling anything, the plot twists and character development was done so well!
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