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Review: Broken by Karin Fossum

by Ann-Katrina

Broken Cover

Title: Broken
Author: Karin Fossum
ISBN: 978-0-1510-1366-1
Story Length: 272 pages
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

Back Cover of Broken

A woman wakes up in the middle of the night. A strange man is in her bedroom. She lies there in silence, paralyzed with fear.The woman is an author and the man one of her characters, one in a long line that waits in her driveway for the time when she’ll tell their stories. He is so desperate that he has resorted to breaking into her house and demanding that she begin.

He, the author decides, is named Alvar Eide, forty-two years old, single,works in a gallery. He lives a quiet, orderly life and likes it that way—no demands, no unpleasantness. Until one icy winter day when a young drug addict, skinny and fragile, walks into the gallery. Alvar gives her a cup of coffee to warm her up. And then one day she appears on his doorstep.

Three Quick Points About Broken

  • Point 1: Where’s the mystery? A quarter of the way through, I realized this wasn’t a traditional whodunit mystery—it wasn’t a traditional mystery in any sense.
  • Point 2: It’s about characters under a microscope. Flawed but hauntingly natural characters crafted with aplomb.
  • Point 3: Smooth prose and pacing, for a translation. Lost in translation isn’t a cliché for nothing, but if anything was lost in this translation, I didn’t miss it.

Short Synopsis of Broken

A writer agonizing over the line of people waiting to have their stories told is surprised when one evening one of those characters invades her bedroom. After a bit of back and forth, they decide on a name for him—Alvar Eide—and she agrees to start his story. She carved out his life: living alone, working in an art gallery, and shunning basic human interactions until a drug-addicted girl wanders into the gallery, and his life. From time to time, Alvar would stop in on the author to discuss the story, particularly when things weren’t going as he expected.

My Thoughts on Broken

First, I was confused. Then, I was intrigued. Finally, I reflected.

On the cover it says that it’s “a mystery”, and from that I expected something along the lines of a detective in a room with a bunch of people when at some point he would declare that Professor Plum did it in the parlour with a candlestick. But that’s not what I got.

The walls around me dissolved as I drifted into the world the author created. With morbid curiosity (and some sympathy) I watched as Alvar’s world spiraled out of control, all because of one crucial choice he made to help the drug-addicted girl instead of shooing her from the store. When he felt the consequences of that choice—what he thought was an act of kindness backfired—he went to the author and practically asked, “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Surprising is the author’s answer: she can only write what she observes as she drifts down the river; she does not have as much control over what happens as Alvar thinks. But Alvar believes, since she is the author, she can write it any way she pleases and begs her to write something more suitable to his nature.

This novel is a mind warp. The true mystery is not whodunit, but whatmadewhodoit: whether our actions are the product of fate or free will. Subtle clues were sprinkled throughout to support each theory and to, no doubt, spark discussions.

Although it wasn’t what I expected, I enjoyed it. Broken is a quiet, languid philosophical book for people who enjoy pondering the mysteries of the human condition. What made this novel even more disturbing was how real each character felt, despite having exaggerated personalities. At the end, you may be left wondering whether we are creations of divine inspiration or the puppets of a frustrated novelist.

Rating: Worth Every Penny [TPB][B+] (?)

Comments on Review: Broken by Karin Fossum

  1. # christina wrote on August 3, 2010 at 10:00 am:

    This book sounds awesome. It reminds me of the novella Being Written.
    .-= christina´s last blog ..TSS- Short Stories =-.

  2. # Ann-Kat wrote on August 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm:

    You know, this is a quirky book to me. It says it’s a mystery, but it isn’t really and I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I ended up liking it a lot. This is one of those books where not everyone will like it, so I’d say read a couple sample pages first.

    I’ve never heard of ‘Being Written’ before so I’m going to look that up. Thanks for that. :)

  3. # Vivienne wrote on August 9, 2010 at 5:22 pm:

    I’m afraid I thought this book was trying to be too clever. By never really letting the character speak, the author could pass you off with a half-person. No-one would behave like Alvar did. He could communicate with people in the gallery, so why couldn’t he communicate with the girl? The author just has him panicking all the time – it’s just implausible. He would have had time when he was on his own to come up with a strategy. And finding true love with the lawyer at the end – a bit trite.

  4. # Ann-Kat wrote on August 16, 2010 at 10:46 am:

    Hi Vivienne,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

    I can see where you’re coming from, but I didn’t think Alvar was that unbelievable a character. I personally have known people with social anxiety disorders and they can be quirky indeed and some do panic all the time. It may seem strange to you and me because we don’t live in such a world, but people like that do exist.

    As far as the end, although hinted at, it doesn’t show that he finds true love. He may very well go on another exploratory journey which opens him up to new experiences, but the relationship may not work. Like this dealings with the sociopathic girl, it could just be another catalyst for his growth.

  5. # 2010: #81 – Broken (Karin Fossum) | Confessions of a Bibliophile wrote on September 23, 2010 at 3:44 pm:

    [...] Review: Broken by Karin Fossum MYSTERIES in PARADISE: Review: BROKEN, Karin Fossum [...]

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