Review: Depths by Henning Mankell

21 November 2007

DepthsHenning Mankell has written a series of novels which take us through the life and cases of Inspector Kurt Wallander of the Skane police in southern Sweden. Inspector Wallander is not the happiest of men and the atmosphere of the books reflects this. Lars Tobiasson-Svartman, in Depths, makes Wallander look like a model of sanity and decorum. This is someone who is more than troubled, who is in fact a criminal, in many different ways. So this book is the other side of the coin of the Wallander novels – it is about the collapse of a man who tries to understand himself but cannot help embracing the terrors that lie within his mind.

The story is about Lars Tobiasson-Svartman, a commander in the Swedish navy in the early years of WW1. He is a naval engineer, an expert at sounding depths in order to chart channels so that Sweden’s warships can safely navigate the archipelagos of its Baltic coast. He longs to find an unfathomable depth. In the course of his work, Lars chances on a woman, Sara, living on a remote and rocky islet, and becomes obsessed with her, while at the same time obsessing about his relationship with his wife, Kristina Tacker. His relationships with colleagues are strange – his captain drops dead, and his private journal reveals that he hated Lars. Lars strikes out, physically, at others when he is disappointed or frustrated – a seaman, Sara’s cat.

The tale is about Lars’ descent into madness as he succumbs to his obsession with Sara, and returns to her islet. He finds a German deserter living with her, and his descent into his own unfathomable depths begins. The shallow facade of his professional and personal life self-destructs, as his carefully laid plans, lies and stratagems to maintain a facade for his life begin to crumble under the weight of their unreality. There are no navigable channels for Lars – only shoals and reefs and inevitable wreckage.

Depths confirms for me that Henning Mankell is a powerful and thoughtful writer. I always look forward to his books.

The translator of this book is Laurie Thompson, who has also translated Åke Edwardson’s novels, as well as some of Mankell’s other books.

Details Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 9780099488651

Other books by Henning Mankell – see Wikipedia entry.