Review published on September 12, 2018.
1994. Stella Widstrand’s baby daughter, Alice, disappeared. Nineteen-year-old Stella left Alice alone, for what felt like only a few minutes, in her pram on the edge of the beach, while she strolled towards the water and then sat thinking for a while. Although the authorities ultimately believed that Stella had not harmed her daughter, had not directly caused Alice’s disappearance, they considered that she had been negligent and, hence, was still somewhat responsible. The official theory was that Alice had got out of her pram somehow, crawled down the beach, and drowned, her body having been washed out to sea. Unable to cope with her guilt and her loss, Stella had a breakdown. Although he didn’t overtly blame her, Stella’s relationship with her boyfriend, Daniel, didn’t survive the disappearance of their daughter.
Twenty years later. Stella Widstrand has rebuilt her life. She is happily married to successful businessman Henrik and the couple have a thirteen-year-old son, Milo. She works as a therapist, in large part due to the help that she received from her own therapist after Alice’s disappearance. All appears rosy from the outside, but the precarious nature of the life Stella has been living for the past few decades is startlingly revealed when a young woman named Isabelle Karlsson is referred to her for therapy. Stella is convinced that Isabelle is really Alice and, as she attempts to find proof that her missing daughter has returned, her life, as well as the lives of all those around her, is turned upside down. She didn’t expect that finding the truth would be easy, but she didn’t expect it to be so dangerous either.
Tell Me You’re Mine is told from the alternating perspectives of Stella, Isabelle and Kerstin, Isabelle’s mother, with some of Stella’s narrative being comprised of her account of events that occurred back in the early 1990s, both before and after Alice’s disappearance. The voices of the three women are nicely differentiated, and Elisabeth Norebӓck has succeeded in having them each reveal key pieces of the plot (to say nothing of many red herrings and numerous confused reminiscences) in such a way that a sense of bewilderment and uncertainty is sustained throughout the story (the English-language version has been ably translated from the Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel so that none of the original suspense or tension is lost).
Stella is arguably the main character throughout, with readers being drawn to her intense feelings of both hope and desperation, from her first encounter with Isabelle to her attempts to prove that her daughter is not dead. She seems convincing, and the appearance of Isabelle certainly has very real repercussions in her life, but questions remain for readers as to how reliable a narrator Stella actually is. The other characters, including Henrik, Milo, Stella’s best friend Pernilla and various police officers, appear equally uncertain about her claims, especially as this isn’t the first time she has been convinced that she has found Alice again. Stella’s mental health is fragile, but then again, neither Isabella nor Kerstin seem to be fully sure of themselves. The events of the past have had a significant bearing on all of them and, as Tell Me You’re Mine makes clear, there is often a very fine line between truth and fiction, between sanity and madness, between what people want to believe and what they have to believe.
Tell Me You’re Mine is a highly suspenseful thriller that, while very occasionally straying into the realm of the outlandish, is still hugely believable. Stella’s predicament as she attempts to prove that Isabella is her missing daughter, all the while understanding that those closest to her believe her to be experiencing a breakdown and thus not knowing who she can trust, is portrayed excellently by Norebӓck, so that readers really feel her sense of isolation and her paranoia that people are plotting to keep the truth from her. While it’s certainly possible to puzzle out a lot of what is happening as the book progresses, the plot is packed with enough twists and turns to keep even the most ardent thriller readers guessing as to how all the various strands of the storyline will eventually be tied up. There is also a surprising amount of action and physical peril for what initially appears to be very much a psychological thriller.
Erin Britton 4/4
Tell Me You’re Mine by Elisabeth Norebӓck
Allison & Busby 9780749023430 pbk Sep 2018
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