A terrifying and dream-like new novel from one of our greatest contemporary writers.
At a critical point in her career, painter Angelika Rossdal suddenly moves to Kvaloya, a small island deep in the Arctic Circle, to dedicate herself to the solitary pursuit of her craft. With her, she brings her young daughter, Liv, who grows up isolated and unable or unwilling to make friends her own age, spending much of her time alone, or with an elderly neighbour, Kyrre Jonsson, who beguiles her with old folk tales and stories about trolls, mermaids and – crucially for the events that unfold in the summer of her eighteenth year – about the huldra, a wild spirit who appears in the form of an irresistibly beautiful girl, to lure young men to their doom.
Now twenty-eight, Liv looks back on her life and particularly to that summer when two boys drowned under mysterious circumstances in the still moonlit waters off the shores of Kvaloya. Were the deaths accidental, or were the boys, as Kyrre believes, lured to their deaths by a malevolent spirit? To begin with, Liv dismisses the old man’s stories as fantasy, but as the summer continues and events take an even darker turn, she comes to believe that something supernatural is happening on the island. But is it? Or is Liv, a lonely girl who has spent her entire life in the shadow of her beautiful, gifted mother, slowly beginning to lose touch with reality?
Set in the white nights of an Arctic summer, the novel has the heightened, hallucinogenic atmosphere of a dream, but culminates in a moment of profound horror. Intensely imagined and exquisitely written, A Summer of Drowning is a play of dark and light, of looking and seeing, that will hold and haunt every reader.
“It's very, very rare for a writer to be equally good at poems and novels. John Burnside is. He's a brilliant poet, a brilliant memoirist, and a brilliant novelist ... breathtakingly good”
Christina Patterson, Independent
“The most defining aspect of Burnside's work aside from its linguistic exactness is the beauty of his prose. Quite simply, he is a wonderful writer. Whatever he is writing always seems real and, considering much of the content of this new novel, that is a considerable asset for any storyteller”
Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
“Burnside allows the ambiguity to remain in a hauntingly memorable book”
Nick Rennison, Sunday Times
“In this beautifully sustained novel madness, mystery and myth-making collide. Burnside has an eerie attunement to the ineffable nature of existence and the fictions we construct to navigate and explain it”
Adam O'Riordan, Financial Times
“The novel invites you to view storytelling as akin to madness...In a book that often makes coded reference to itself to provoke serious thought as to what fiction is about, this counts as a joke. Its evasions may discomfit those who like to know exactly where they stand, but those who enjoy being teased as well as spooked should relish an eerie, ethereal novel that alludes to Lewis Carroll and uses methods of Hitchcock and David Lynch”
“Memorable, atmospheric and compelling”
Tim Souster, Times Literary Supplement
“A beautiful and haunting book...A charming and deeply imaginative novel”
“Lyrical in his descriptions on the land of the midnight sun”
Clare Colvin, Daily Mail
“Burnside's prose has been frequently praised for its clarity, poetic sonority and fine cadences. It is certainly so here ... A Summer of Drowning marries philosophical meditation with the gooseflesh verve of a thriller”
Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday
“Burnside is an accomplished and careful writer. And this is a beautiful book, compelling and strange”
Margaret Reynolds, The Times
“Unsettling, hauntingly memorable tale”
“Written with deceptive elegance, riddled with gaps and non sequiturs and a clever travesty of several genres, this is a disturbing, provocative book'”
“ [A Summer of Drowning] brings an eerie glow to the colours and sounds, flora and foodstuffs of the far north”
Justine Jordan, Guardian