The White City by Karolina Ramqvist

Review published on August 2, 2017.

This is a contemporary, atmospheric and gritty book that has been translated into English amongst other languages, following its award-winning success in Sweden. Slender but no less powerful for it, the story is centred around Karin, who has a very young child that she is trying to care for in a filthy, cold house. She has plummeted down to earth in a hard and thoroughly unforgiving manner after the highs of the drugs world and all its excess have left her bereft.

Seemingly, she had led the good life as girlfriend of the lucrative drug criminal, Johnny. A flash home, cars and a rock and roll party life allowed her to experience gross excess. But Johnny has left her. All she has is the home he gave her and her daughter Dream. Now penniless and friendless, she is entirely alone. She has hit the very depths of despair, but probably for the sake of her daughter, despite a sensation of total isolation and emptiness, she soldiers on.

When it becomes apparent that she is to be evicted from her own home in order for the enforcement officers to take a tough approach to drug crimes, that is, to claim back on such debts, she considers she needs to approach those that she thinks owe her. This re-exposes her to the reality of self-centred drug using individuals who care nothing for her plight, She has been discarded, but she is not to be deterred.

The book is written in a very soporific manner, capturing Karin as she tends to her daughter Dream. She loses track of time and often sleeps so you are unsure if drug addiction is a current reality or whether she is just struggling through the deepest depths of depression. Whilst she only seems to notice limited things around her, what is clear is that she is attentive to Dream and heightened to keeping her safe. The child is breastfed and seemingly contented. The chill of the cold they endure feels bitingly real. Part of you feels cross with Karin and frustrated by her episodes of apathy, while part of you is willing her on to rise above all this and prosper. In some ways she is fiercely independent, not wishing to seek social housing in the face of eviction. But she also seems naive in thinking any of her old ‘friends’ are likely to be bothered about her and come to her rescue.

Knowing Ramqvist to also be a feminist writer arguably also offers you pause for thought about Karin’s situation and how she allowed herself to become a pawn at the behest of Johnny. How did she behave when she was with him? How did she let herself become so dependent? What do the behaviours and relationships of the other women with their drug dealing partners say about them and women in such circumstances in general? What is there for both men and women to take from relationships that co-exist in such situations? Whilst primarily this book is candidly written about isolation, there is a huge amount to consider and examine. It is one of those books worthy of a second read as you will no doubt draw out more from it and absolutely perfect for a reading group.

Sara Garland 4/5

The White City by Karolina Ramqvist
Grove Press, Black Cat 9780802125958 pbk Feb 2017

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