Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hans Koppel - Two novels - She's never coming back/You're mine now

Hans Koppel's 'She's never coming back' starts with the kidnapping of Ylva. Koppel adds an audacious and macabre twist to it as her kidnappers keep her captive in basement of a house that is right opposite Ylva's. The room where she is captive has a live camera feed for transmitting images from the front of her own house.

The plot has multiple threads to it. The core one is of course the mystery of who has kidnapped her and why. The relationship between Ylva and Mike (there is a mention of an affair between Ylva and another person sometime earlier), with Mike seemingly prone to bouts of depression is another, as is the thread of how Mike and his daughter try to pick the pieces of their lives and move on.

All of these could have made the novel as much a psychological drama as it is a mystery. But Koppel doesn't much time on these, not even time to give enough information for the reader to un-spool the unsaid by  himself. It's one thing, if Koppel had completely ignored the other threads and kept it as a straight forward thriller. But looks like he was caught in two minds, one to add more emotional heft to a thriller and at the same time feeling a compulsion to write a fast paced thriller. The result is that we get a few tantalizing insights, like the dynamics of the husband-wife relation, how relatively easily the family (seemingly) gets over Ylva's disappearance. The relationship between Ylva and her kidnappers is another thread that had immense possibilities. But Koppel rushes from one situation to another, running at breakneck speed towards the end, making all the above superfluous. 

The mystery itself is nothing much to speak of. The identity of the kidnapper is a surprise (though a bit contrived, it's purpose being to lead to the conclusion) , but the manner in which they do it (and also the other crimes they do) is glossed over. It just looks like the kidnapper got up one day and decided to do it. There is no hint of the planning etc done by them, particularly about the other crimes committed. The reason for the crimes is a sad enough story, one that we have heard about countless times. There is also another parallel thread about a couple of people who were classmates of Ylva, which gives some hints on why the kidnapping could have happened, but there is again a 'ex deus machina' in this thread to take the story forward.

With some many plot-lines, each with potential of their own, this could have been a cracker of a novel, but remains a middling one at best.

Koppel's 'You're mine now' pretty much follows the same pattern. Anna has an affair with an younger 'Erik' and it leads to unforeseen consequences. The dynamics of Anna's relationship with her husband (Magnus) is interesting here too. One good thing about both the novels is that the women in them are quite capable of taking care of themselves and don't always need a shoulder to cry on. The men, though not wimps come very close to being one. Magnus is a better etched character than Mike, the reason being Koppel spends more time on showing us their relationship. When Anna decides to break off the affair, Erik shows another side of his. The transformation (to the reader and Anna) of Erik is brought out well. Instead of telling us directly, Koppel makes us understand through the actions of Erik. Sometimes he is submissive, disconsolate,  yearning for Anna, cajoling her and sometimes he is aggressive, spewing hatred and trying to create problems for her, telling reader (and Anna) that he is unstable. The reason for Erik's actions is a controversial plot line which is completely skimmed over by Koppel other than a few hints here and there. 

Mention should be made of the role of police in both the novels. The policemen here are not existentially scarred persons fighting ghosts of the past. Their concerns seem to be like when the baths or cinemas would open rather than justice.  It's also probably an indicator of how police view some (supposed) crimes in reality. When Ylva is first reported missing, the police take quite a long time to decide that she has indeed gone missing against her and will and their first (and major) suspicion is on the husband. When 'Anna' reports about Erik pestering her, the policemen do not take it too seriously. Even when a character goes missing and Erik seems to be in the thick of it, they take Erik's word and decide that he has nothing to do with it. One could say that they are being realistic or incompetent, depending on how you view it.

If one is looking for a reasonably fast paced thriller, these two novels offer a bang for the buck. But does the bang has as much an impact as it sounds? And what after the bang? Though both novels fail to scale the heights they promise to, the story-lines that Koppel takes up, the (infrequent) moments of startling insights into relationships that the books have make one hope that Koppel may achieve this promise in his future books. 

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