Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

Mike’s review

Last Vida was good enough that I didn’t bother to read synopsis on back cover. Good thing too. May have led me to skip this book as it’s again: traumatic event followed by travel to figure shit/oneself out. But Vida is pretty fucking good at what she does.

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Without concern, Clarissa is putting herself in a dangerous situation. Foreign country, accepts drink immediately that she didn’t see prepared, travels far from hotel where driver/date doesn’t exactly seem to know directions. I recognize all this, but the only foreshadowing (?) Vida gives is a mixed up translation: Kari says “hitting you” when he (probably) means hitting on you.

“‘No one else is on this floor […] I made sure you were private.'” Is straight up creepy/ominous, right?

Just foreshadowing the concept of rape? Is that what all this was? Giving the reader some idea of the menace of being a woman? Opening the reader up to the possibility? An event so tragic the idea must be foreshadowed? (No one is raped within the confines of the book, but rape certainly is at the heart of it.)

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Is it weird that I feel Vida does amazing job of shining light on womanhood without being trite/cliche? Is this patronizing or condescending? I don’t mean that I get to understand, but that I get to see. Empathetic, not sympathetic. Saying something like this hits the nail too hard on the head, brings too much light onto that which is not overly illuminated.

Her characters are female and this affects them, but does not define them. Though about women, couldn’t possibly be defined as “chick lit.” (which is about brogue men, love and shopping, right?)

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We all know the mother’s going to appear, but it’s still really good when she does. Like I couldn’t breathe once she did, until she was gone.

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Two small, spoilery quibbles: the paragraph in which Clarissa expresses empathy/understanding for her mother. Although she truly would feel this, I wish it wasn’t here and Clarissa made her decisions without this self-awareness. Probably makes for a less sympathetic, more emotionally devastating character. Would give the reader a sense of the self-perpetuating cycles of heartbreak. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Wish there’d been no northern lights sighting. Clarissa goes to Arctic Circle and doesn’t see what most people go for. But the northern lights and their fucked-up daylight cycles are ever present in mental states so the title still fits and if not perfectly, all the better.

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