Elizabeth is a husk of a woman. She feels nothing. Why she continues to live baffles her. Despite her misery, she continues to eat, to exist. She can't quite bring herself to snuff out her life. After months in her apartment she faces a problem. She is almost out of food and to get more, she must get up, get dressed and brave the outside world to go the market.

She despairs in the face of this Herculean task. Or would, if she could motivate herself to despair. Mostly it is a dull worry as she tears into one of her remaining soup packets, realising she is running out of food. She considers the option of allowing herself to starve to death as she wonders why she bothers to eat at all.

Fate makes her decision. Her neighbour, who she knows only because she hears his steps in the hallway, is beaten up just under her window. Even in her torpor, she cannot leave him there.

For a woman who's done nothing for months, it seems improbable she will leap from her bed to rush to the street to help a stranger, but she does. From this dramatic action, her relationship with her neighbours, Otto and Elias, is born.


Although Elizabeth seems reborn, her suicidal thoughts haunt her, shading her actions. Her loose hold on life casts a pall on all activities taking place during the bright Swedish summer. As I turned each page, I awaited Elizabeth's final act.

Swedish writer-turned-Kiwi Linda Olsson's spare, elegant words create a world of activity and light, but not for her three main characters, they are apart from the bustle of the world and not by choice. Their tenuous connections with each other bring them into a better place, if only for a moment.

by Linda Olsson
(Penguin, $38)