Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Drowned

Title: Drowned
Author: Therese Bowman
Translator: Marlaine Delargy
Publisher: Other Press
Pub. Date: May 22, 2012
ISBN: 9781590515242

Drowned is surprising, a quality that is rare in the books I’ve encountered recently. The mystery isn’t simply unpredictable in that it zigs where you anticipate it would zag; it is also restrained in places where most books would go all out.

Above all things, Drowned is subtle. It demands a careful reader who will not skim over a line or two in an eagerness to discover the twists of the increasingly tense plot. Yet it begins so slowly and simply that the reader doesn’t discover its demands until far along in the novel, a process which mirrors the predicament of Marina, the protagonist.

Marina escapes Stockholm and the university coursework she has failed to complete to spend a few weeks with her sister Stella in the country home of Stella’s boyfriend Gabriel. The depiction of the rural environment is one of the great strengths of the novel. The preoccupation with sensory detail doesn’t just immerse the reader in rural Sweden. Bowman figuratively utilizes the elements of nature in a way that is obvious yet not heavy-handed. 

Stylistically, run-on sentences are so pervasive throughout the novel that one can only conclude that they are a deliberate choice. While at first distracting, these lines work overall in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible by furthering the blurred, dream-like atmosphere of the novel. The sudden, furtive sexual encounters that develop between Marina and Gabriel have an air of unreality. As Marina returns to Stockholm, the relationship seems to end without consequences.

Yet in the second half of the novel, fall has set in, and the haze that summer cast over the characters dissipates. Everything that was established in part one is turned on its head, including Marina’s obsession with Gabriel. Bowman’s brevity and restraint pays off in a wholly unexpected ending. Drowned is a novel that will linger in your mind and leave you eager to turn back to the beginning when you have read the final page.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from


  1. Thanks for sharing! I'm not sure that I would be able to get over the run-on sentences. What other books would you compare DROWNED to?

    1. Yeah, I didn't think I could either, but somehow I stopped being tripped up by them after a while. I think I'm going to have to reevaluate my refusal to read The Road due to the inconsistent punctuation.

      Okay, other books: that's a good and tough question! Elements of the plot remind me of Rebecca and The Portrait of A Lady, but the book is completely modern. The focus on nature and its connection to sensuality reminds me of Colette's Claudine series, but again, it's not in any sense a recreation of an early 20th century novel.

      Hope these comparisons convey a bit of a sense of the book. I'll update if I can come up with some more contemporary examples!