Surgeon Frederick Welin has lived alone on a deserted island, in self-imposed exile, since he was disgraced for trying to cover up a mistake on the operating table. Then, one morning, he sees a figure struggling across the ice and realises that his past is about to cover up with him.
The figure approaching him is Harriet, the only woman he ever loved, the woman he abandoned forty years ago in order to study in America. Now Harriet has tracked him down to ask him to honour a promise made many years ago: to take her to a beautiful lake, hidden deep in the forests of northern Sweden. But Welin soon discovers that Harriet has left his biggest surprise until last.
For 20 years Frederick Welin has lived alone on a deserted island near the Arctic Circle since making a terrible mistake on the operating table and refusing to accept the same. Establishing routines to cope with the boredom, loneliness and his own regrets, his life is turned upside when Harriet, the woman he loved and abandoned many years earlier, arrives outside his front door. She wants him to honour a promise he made to her to take her to a beautiful lake hidden deep in the woods. Initially reluctant to do so, Frederick agrees when he discovers that she’s terminally ill.
As the two of them start their road journey, they go over their shared past, seeking to understand what happened and slowly Frederick begins to come out of his shell. But then he discovers that Harriet has got another secret, one that’s going to change his life forever.
Mankell is best known for his dark Wallander crime series, this is a gentle, reflective stand-alone novel with themes of old age and past regrets that’s beautifully written and well translated by Laurie Thompson.
Frederick is a lonely character, aware of his past mistakes but unable to get past them to move on with his life. Harriet by contrast is a woman who doesn’t want to deal with her present or at least, let it get in the way of wrapping up the loose ends of her life. Although the twist is a little obvious, the ripples that it creates in both their lives is beautifully drawn and the way Mankell draws it to its conclusion is ultimately satisfying.
A beautifully written, well observed and reflective novel that has a lot to say about growing old and past regrets, this is a wonderful read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Cross-posted to books and bookworming.