Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 13, 2014

Mona, by Dan Sehlberg, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, Guest review by Karenlee Thompson

MonaWhere would I be without Karenlee Thompson to help me out when the pile of books for review grows so big it won’t fit in the drawer?  Yes, in my home library they have their very own designated drawer (one of those large plastic Oates stackable ones from Bunnings) so that these books don’t get lost among the 700-odd other books neatly arranged in alphabetical order and waiting their turn in my TBR shelves.  The drawer holds about 20 books (depending on size) and when it starts to get full, I stoically resist offers from authors and publishers and publicists because I don’t like to commit to things I can’t deliver, and I like to read my own books as well, of course!

But some publishers and publicists get so excited about their new books, they just can’t resist sending a copy to me anyway.  Of course it’s great that they feel that even though they know I don’t read thrillers/SF/crime/sad memoirs et al (see my review policy) they have so much faith in the new book that they feel sure that this particular one will overcome my reservations and I will love it like they do!  Authors need publishers to love their books, of course they do, and it’s especially pleasing to see that Scribe is doing its best to promote translated fiction.  (Stu at Winston’s Dad will be pleased too, I bet). But, I just didn’t have time to read Mona, so I’m very grateful to Karenlee for her willingness to write a guest review, especially since she is busy writing her second novel:)

Dan Sehlberg’s Mona is the first book of a two-part thriller, its sequel Sinon being due for release this year.

The plot is breathtaking in its frightening possibility:

Eric is a computer science professor who invents a thought-controlled system for browsing the web and, while some readers might think this is merely imaginative sci-fi, the truth is it is far too close to reality for comfort. Eric’s system collides with Professor Samir Mustaf’s newly-created computer virus with catastrophic results and it is just a matter of time before the lives of Eric and Samir become entwined.

When Eric’s wife Hannah becomes infected with a mystery virus, Eric is convinced that his browsing system has somehow become involved in passing the latest sophisticated computer virus on to her.  No-one believes him so he embarks on his own quest to find answers and to save his wife who has drifted into a coma.  In the process, Eric has to deal with Mossad, Hezbollah and the FBI nipping at his heels.

The intrigue and espionage extend to a Palestinian spy in the highest levels of the Israeli government and a ruthless Mossad assassin – Rachel Papo – who, despite being psychopathic in intent, finds some softness in her heart when it counts most.

There are a number of extremely contrived plot devices and, while it is difficult to settle into an easy belief and relax into the ride, accepting the coincidences that help us on our journey, it is not so difficult to accept the credibility of the fantastic results of the meeting of the virus with the thought-control program.

There’s something of the fairy-tale twist in the denouement that is unfortunately rare in real life, particularly when we are dealing with the volatility of the middle-east. If only these two men from opposite sides of the ideological, philosophical and religious spectrum could so easily bury their differences. If only two men could alter such catastrophic events. If only life were so simple.

The Style

I didn’t find much in the way of Literary style in Sehlberg’s prose but I know little about the translation process and, as I cannot read the novel in its original, there is no way for me to tell how much of the style is completely Sehlberg’s and what – if any – is as a result of the translation. The translator Rachel Willson-Broyles, was lauded for the exceptional job she did with Jonas Hassen Khemeri’s 2011 novel Montecore.

Word choices and sentence structures are sometime jarring.

‘Parents – exclusively women – were standing nearby or sitting on benches, and talking to each other on phones.’ (p. 320) Wouldn’t those ‘parents – exclusively women’ be ‘mothers’? Or ‘women’?

‘Jens hugged him as heartily and roughly as always.  His rough beard scratched Eric’s cheek.’ (p. 40). Most editors would have marked ‘roughly’ and ‘rough’ for a rethink. ‘Eric returned to his car, which had received a parking ticket. He left it where it was and backed out of the parking area.’ (p. 162) Clunky and uninspired.

Occasionally, a gem of a sentence emerges. For example, ‘She was Jewish, with all of Europe running through her veins’ (p. 25-26), imparts the information in a less pedestrian form than elsewhere throughout the book. And this: ‘But when he woke, reality waited restlessly for him with sharp claws and a wide sneer.’ (p. 129). For the most part, though, I found the prose style to be a little dull.

Still, you don’t need Literary style to make a Hollywood movie and that’s where Mona is headed. There’s quite a buzz around Swedish story-telling lately but let’s be clear; Sehlberg is no Stieg Larsson and Mona is a far cry from The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Nevertheless, Mona is a page-turner and it comes as no surprise to me that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, ‘New Regency’ has picked up the movie rights.  I can definitely imagine a good Hollywood thriller in a Matt Damon or Mark Wahlberg kind of way and, if Angelina Jolie would take on a less starring role, she’d glint like sharpened steel as the ruthless Rachel Papo. This is likely to be one of those rare cross-overs where the movie will upstage the book.

Throughout the story, I often found myself thinking back to the prologue, in which a little girl in Lebanon brings a tin can home to her mother and grandmother.  She’d found the can while chasing a striped cat through a muddy field.  In that creative way of children, she has imagined the cat as a tiger and the can as its cub.

[she] saw her mother’s tears.  She looked nervously at her grandmother, and heard her prayers.  Then she extended the hand with the tiger cub.  That wasn’t a tiger cub.  That was a can. That wasn’t a can.  That was a grenade from an Israeli cluster bomb. (2)

Such imagery is so close to the reality for many families in the Middle East today, on both sides of the fence. It is gut-wrenching.

© Karenlee Thompson

Karen Lee ThompsonKarenlee Thompson is an author and an occasional reviewer for The Australian and was featured on Meet an Aussie Author in 2011.  Her debut novel 8 States of Catastrophe is reviewed on the ANZ LitLovers blog here.  Karen blogs at Karenlee Thompson.

Thanks, Karenlee, for once again sharing your expertise in reviewing!

PS Don’t you love the way that Karenlee has the perfect turn of phrase? ‘if Angelina Jolie would take on a less starring role, she’d glint like sharpened steel as the ruthless Rachel Papo’!

Cross-posted at Karenlee Thompson’s blog.

Author: Dan Sehlberg, Dan
Title: Mona
Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Publisher:  Scribe Publications,  2014.
ISBN 9 781922 070975
Source: Review copy courtesy of Scribe Publications

Availability

Fishpond: Mona

 


Responses

  1. […] to ANZ Litlovers (cross-posted) for the reviewing […]


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