Kirkus Reviews QR Code
STELLA DESCENDING by Linn Ullmann Kirkus Star

STELLA DESCENDING

By Linn Ullmann (Author) , Barbara Haveland (Translator)

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41499-1
Publisher: Knopf

A haunting, elegiac account of a woman’s mysterious death, told by this Norwegian second-novelist (Before You Sleep, 1999) through the voices of the detective and survivors trying to make sense of the case.

There is Twin Peaks–like weirdness to this story, which is much too elliptical to qualify as a typical whodunit. We begin with the death of Stella, an Oslo nurse who falls from the roof of her seven-storey apartment building. Her husband Martin was not only on the roof, too, but seen holding onto her just before she fell—or was he pushing her? The witnesses can’t quite make up their minds. Corinne, the detective investigating the case, is a former ventriloquist whose stomach turns (literally) whenever she is in the presence of a killer. She has a bad feeling about Martin, but there’s not enough evidence to charge him with anything. Corinne also happens to know that in 1934 a lovelorn actor killed himself by jumping off the very same roof. Axel, an old man whom Stella had nursed in the hospital and who subsequently became her friend, had a bad feeling about Martin, too. Martin is a furniture salesman who sold Stella a green sofa and refused to leave after he delivered it—he and Stella had been married for ten years when she died. It seems that Martin had a kind of private game in which he took it upon himself to sleep with every woman who ever bought a green sofa from him. Stella had some quirks, too: She let a plumber move in with her when she couldn’t afford to pay him (he even stayed after she and Martin were married). So, were she and Martin up to something weird on the roof, or was the death just an accident? Or a murder? Suicide?

A very strange tale that could have been unbearably pretentious—but it’s deft and light enough to work, creating just the right atmosphere of foreboding and regret.