About as profound as modern fiction gets, this depth-charge of a love story moves toward its tragic end with colossal certainty.
In this soul-torn work, Mankell (The Man Who Smiled, 2006, etc.) has imagined a perfect existentialist hero—a man who does not know himself. Naval Commander and hydrographic survey engineer, Lars Tobiasson-Svartman is masterful at his work: conducting covert WWI operations to read depths around the Stockholm archipelago. At sea, he yearns for his distant wife, “the invisible lid he used to cover the abyss.” For Lars is obscurely hurt, reeling in the shadow of a brutal father, and death-haunted aboard the ship. After the bosun mysteriously dies, a German sailor’s corpse is hauled from the deep. Lieutenant Jakobsson keels over, too, and, discovering his colleague’s diary, Lars is shaken to learn that the dead man had hated him, finding Lars “false” and a walking “illusion.” Perhaps Jakobsson had suspected the secret: Lars’s forays onto an island inhabited only by a ghostly siren, Sara the fisherwoman, whose husband had “died screaming, tangled up in a herring net.” Lying to Sara that his own wife and daughter had fallen off a cliff, Lars desperately beds her. On leave, guilt-ridden, he then impregnates his wife, who’ll bear him a daughter. And yet Sara will also become pregnant with his child. Before the two women confront him and his double-life has been ripped wide open, Lars will murder a stranger, attack Sara’s father, be scandalously drummed out of the Navy and descend into a Dante-esque depth—the agony his wayward heart has caused the women who loved him.