Linda Olsson recently graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland — a prestigious course run by none other than Witi Ihimaera. She credits the course for giving her the context to make this book a reality. The reality for us is that Olsson is a fine new talent who has crafted an emotionally satisfying, superbly constructed work that sets a new benchmark in New Zealand fiction.

Our protagonist, Veronika, seeks refuge in a quiet Swedish hamlet to ponder life and write her new novel. She is 31 and finds herself at a crossroads contemplating how she should live her life. Before she can choose a new direction, however, she must reassemble the pieces of her shattered past — she wants answers and closure, but first she needs to work through the problems by verbalising her painful past.

Enter Astrid, her elderly neighbour, who has also suffered her fair share of tragedy, and is perhaps the wise old head our budding novelist needs to get her writing and life back on track. At the centre of this book sit these two women, each a distorted mirror of the other — echoing and reflecting the other's past and possible future.

Olsson, who was born in Sweden, deftly places these two characters in the frozen landscape of her homeland, and we watch as their damaged lives thaw along with the rivers and lakes. As winter becomes spring, Veronika shares with Astrid the tragic details of her journey to New Zealand to reunite with James, the love of her life. And when Astrid reflects and responds in kind, Veronika soon realises she is not there to write James' story, but to capture and record the dark and at times often frightening narrative of the older woman.

This is the heart-rending story of how two women, both having suffered great loss in their lives, find solace in the words of each other, and begin to live again. Olsson seduces the reader with her hypnotic prose, rendering the book not only impossible to put down, but impossible to forget.

* Steve Scott is a Hamilton reviewer.