Shame by Karin Alvtegen

shameShame by Karin Alvtegen, translated by Steven T. Murray

Canongate, 2006

Originally published as Skam, 2005

I discovered Karin Alvtegen in Barry Forshaw’s Death in a Cold Climate, and I started with Shame (the books are not part of a series) just because that’s the book I located first. I was quite impressed with Shame, and I’ve seen several blogs mention that it’s not her strongest work: I’m looking forward to reading more.

While the blurb on the cover calls it a “compulsive thriller,” I think the book is more suspenseful than full of thrills. Shame is the story of two unconnected women who are dealing with unresolved shame issues about their pasts. Monika is a doctor whose teenage brother died about twenty years before, and Maj-Britt is a woman who became a homebound morbidly obese woman because of her inability to deal with her past. Alvtegen doesn’t exploit her characters: she goes deep into the minds of these damaged women and conveys the depths and changes in their feelings very closely. The book is a compulsive read too because Alvtegen alternates perspectives in each chapter: the cliffhanger at the end of one character’s chapter isn’t resolved until two chapters later. Also, this is a book that deals with psychology, sex, religion, and death, but it’s not really centered on a crime.

I’ve read a few repressed-memory or woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown books in the past few months (Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment and Peter May’s The Blackhouse), and I’m spent. I recommend Shame with the caveat that it can put you through the wringer emotionally.

Other reviews appear in Euro Crime and How Mysterious!

I bought my copy of the book.

15 thoughts on “Shame by Karin Alvtegen

  1. Glad you enjoyed this, Rebecca. I think that one of Alvtegen’s strengths is her ability to get into characters’ minds and convey the sense of suspense without being overly wordy or resorting to a lot of violence and gore.

  2. No wringers for me! Enough going on in the world now that I don’t want to read about so I’ll stick to milder books. I read one book by her and it was not my cup of tea.

    • It’s definitely a kind of book you have to be in the mood for, Kathy, and the news lately has been horrifying so I understand not wanting to read this as well.

  3. I actually tried her Edgar nominated novel, Missing, and didn’t finish it. I can’t remember why. I like her voice and her pacing is pretty good. I’ll try to give her another look. I know Maxine (Petrona) was a big fan of her books, too.

    • I’ll have to look at Maxine’s reviews once I read her other books: thanks for pointing me that way.

      This book was shortlisted for the International Dagger in 2007, and it had some great competition:
      Winner: Fred Vargas, Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand
      Translator – Sîan Reynolds
      Karin Alvtegen, Shame
      Steven T Murray
      Christian Jungersen, The Exception
      Anna Paterson
      Yasmina Khadra, The Attack
      John Cullen
      Åsa Larsson, The Savage Altar (US title: Sun Storm)
      Marlaine Delargy
      Jo Nesbø, The Redbreast
      Don Bartlett

  4. I have approach / avoidance syndrome. The premise and the structure of the book sounds interesting; but I am not looking looking for something very emotionally taxing. I will keep this author in mind for future reading.

    • I do the same thing, Tracy: there are certain books I just can’t bring myself to read. I went into this one a bit blind: I didn’t really remember the reviews before I dove in.

  5. It was Missing that I read and didn’t really like. But Maxine Clarke did like Alvtegen’s books.

    • Hmm, that’s two votes against and one rave from Maxine. I’ll give it a shot, and if it’s not for me I’ll stop after the first chapter.

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