Astrid & Veronika

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2007, 12:00am

Astrid & Veronika

by Linda Olsson

Penguin, HK$112

There's so much to treasure in Linda Olsson's debut novel, Astrid & Veronika. A story about the unlikely friendship between two women, one a septuagenarian, the other a 31-year-old writer, it has a luminous quality, despite its often dark moments. The pair find themselves neighbours when the younger of the two, Veronika, returns to Stockholm to take refuge in a hamlet. She plans to recover from her fiance's death by writing a book, but the words don't come. Long walks take the place of human companionship until the day Astrid, dubbed 'the neighbourhood witch', knocks on her door to see if she's all right. Veronika, sick with fever, hasn't left her house for days and her neighbour surprises herself by caring. 'When the door opened and she stood face to face with the young woman,' Olsson writes, 'she realised that life had irrevocably returned.' Thus begins a friendship that allows the women to unburden themselves of their grief. And there's rather a lot of it, although Olsson tackles their stories with such respect that none of it seems overwrought. The novel, which is slight in length, gentle in execution and controlled in emotion, will touch readers in the right frame of mind to explore the human condition.