The Memory of Love
From the beloved author of Astrid & Veronika, a moving tale of friendship and redemption
Fans of Astrid & Veronika and Chris Cleave's Little Bee will be thrilled to read Linda Olsson's third novel. Here is Olsson doing what she does best: illuminating the terrain of friendship and examining the many forms that love can take.
Marion Flint, in her early fifties, has spent fifteen years living a quiet life on the rugged coast of New Zealand, a life that allows the door to her past to remain firmly shut. But a chance meeting with a young boy, Ika, and her desire to help him force Marion to open the Pandora’s box of her memory. Seized by a sudden urgency to make sense of her past, she examines each image one-by-one: her grandfather, her mother, her brother, her lover. Perhaps if she can create order from the chaos, her memories will be easier to carry. Perhaps she’ll be able to find forgiveness for the little girl that was her. For the young woman she had been. For the people she left behind.
Olsson expertly interweaves scenes from Marion’s past with her quest to save Ika from his own tragic childhood, and renders with reflective tenderness the fragility of memory and the healing power of the heart.
It was Thursday and I was making soup. By now it was an established routine. Greek fish soup this week. I was boiling the vegetables, and steam covered the window above the sink. The kitchen faced the beach with an unobstructed view of the endless sea, which at that moment was just a grey blur behind the film of condensation. I had cleaned the fish, three small snapper, and I was making the avgolemono, the lemon and egg sauce. The lemons were scruffy to look at, but as I cut them the fragrance filled the kitchen. The lemons from the tree behind the house seemed to have more taste and a more intense smell than any I had ever come across anywhere else. I whipped the egg whites, folded the yolks into them and then I added the lemon juice. I chopped the parsley, and it was all prepared. All that remained was to allow the vegetables to boil till they had softened, add the fish, and then at the last minute stir in the avgolemono and parsley. I had time to go and sit on the doorstep for a moment. I kept a hammock and a few rattan chairs on the deck, but I seldom used them. I preferred the doorstep.
‘Marianne,’ I said to myself. ‘Marianne.’
Lately, I had felt the need to taste the name. To listen to it. Retrieve it, perhaps. It was still a strange experience – I didn’t quite own it yet. Or perhaps it was mine but in another, distant time, locked inside another room. I had made it a habit to try it several times every day. I couldn’t quite remember when I began, but it had been some time. I wondered how it would sound to others: a middle-aged woman sitting on the doorstep of her house repeating her own name. But there was nobody around. Just Kasper, my ginger cat; his slowly blinking green eyes looked as if they had seen everything, accepted everything. He sat beside me, close, but not too close, still in his own sphere. As we both liked it, I think. Beside each other, but separate. As always, he sat calm and patient while I did my strange exercises. Or whatever one might have called them.
‘Marianne,’ I repeated. It was odd to feel how my body responded to the sound. After all these years.
It felt hot. The colour was red, and the name burned on my tongue before it lifted off my lips like a flame.
Marion, on the other hand, fell from my lips light blue, almost grey. Pale and cool. And it dissolved instantly.
I stood and walked across the deck and down the stairs onto the sand. The dry grass on the dunes rustled in the light wind. I turned and looked at my house for a moment. The small weatherboard structure had become an integral part of my own physical self and I rarely consciously regarded it. I took a few steps back and looked at it where it sat on the sand in front of me. There was sand inside and out. It no longer bothered me and I had long given up all efforts at keeping it off the floors. I spent most of my time outside and I liked the idea that the distinction between inside and outside had become increasingly blurred. It was as if the house and all it contained was slowly dissolving and would eventually become one with the sand it sat on. These days I walked barefoot across the threshold without wiping the sand off my feet. It had taken me a long time to reach this state.
I knew that most people would say the house needed paint. But I liked it as it was, polished by the wind and the salt from the sea. It had become a soft grey, in some lights almost silvery, and the boards were smooth and soft to the touch.
‘Absolute beachfront ’ was what it had said in the brochure. It was a selling point then. Not so any more, I suspected. At least not on this coast with soft and low dunes, only just rising over the surface of the sea. The view had remained the same, of course. Impossible to ignore, even after all these years. The never-ending sea, subtly changing colour and character from one moment to the next. Never the same, yet always the same. Even before any mention of the greenhouse effect and melting polar ice, the dunes had provided a shifting, uncertain base for a house. October storms often swallowed large chunks of sand and washed them out to sea. I didn’t mind the sense of uncertainty. The precariousness of my existence. That lingering subconscious aware- ness of the slowly rising tide that would one day prise my house off the ground and sweep it out to sea. Or the giant wave that would lift it up in one quick rolling thunder. I preferred that scenario. And I would concede. I had convinced myself that I was ready.
But till that day I was going to stay put. I walked along the beach every morning. When I had first returned to make my home in this place I had started my walks as something to give my existence some shape and form. Or perhaps as something to cling to. But the tentative, dutiful walks had eventually become purposeful routine, in a way also part of my work. If you could call it that. It was during my morning walks that I gathered my material. Driftwood. Stones and shells. Nuts and seeds. feathers and bones. All polished by the sea and soft in my hands, each piece in its own way. There had been no particular purpose behind the gathering at first. My eyes would absent-mindedly set on a piece of wood rolling in the foam at the edge of the withdrawing sea and I would bend down and pick it up. Keep it in my hand while I walked on. Or it could be a stone, always more colourful where it lay on the wet sand than dry in my hand. But soft, always. Soothing. Later I had begun to carry a basket, and over time the gathering had become purposeful. It had changed the nature of my walks of course. They were no longer walks, really, but expeditions. Hunts. They continued to occupy my time and my thoughts.
“Olsson’s eloquent prose offers an intimate, poignant portrait of a woman at midlife who finds her way back…to a life filled with love.”—Publishers Weekly
“[A] deeply poetic novel...and a credit to Olsson’s narrative technique….Fans of Jennifer Haigh and Heidi W. Durrow will appreciate this darkly emotional novel.”—Booklist
“Exquisitely rendered….quietly gripping.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Haunting and beautiful, [The Memory of Love] is a reminder of the fragility of happiness and the impossibility of living without hope." —Otago Times (New Zealand)
"Linda Olsson writes beautifully, capturing the fragile nature of her characters and the beauty of the rugged landscape around her with great precision and subtlety. A hugely evocative book. The story gets under your skin and will live on long after the final page has been turned." —Gisborne Herald (New Zealand)
"The emotional weather of the story is changeable and dramatic, with storm clouds sometimes threatening, unpredictable tides and winds of inner conflict, and chance meetings. . . . It is the storytelling, of course, that is most seductive, with the right balance between the disclosure and holding back of information to keep us reading to the end—appreciating at every twist a writer delighting in her craft." —Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)
"[A] tender, loving story . . . concerned with searching and healing . . . You sense an author of real integrity." —Weekend Herald (New Zealand)
"Olsson's lyrical style is perfectly suited to the reflective tenderness that characterises Marion's narrative voice. . . . The tragedies of the novel, combined with the powerful resonance of the windswept and lonely coast, makes [The Memory of Love] a heavily atmospheric novel of great emotional weight." —Listener (New Zealand)
“Olsson successfully intertwines New Zealand and Sweden to create a beautiful and compelling story.” —Mahrangimatters (New Zealand)
"One of the most stirring and sensitive books I have read for a long time. [ . . . ] An outstanding read." —The Star (New Zealand)
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