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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Helios Disaster

Linda Boström Knausgård

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To purchase The Helios Disaster

Title: The Helios Disaster
Author: Linda Boström Knausgård
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 100 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Helios Disaster - US
The Helios Disaster - UK
The Helios Disaster - Canada
  • Swedish title: Helioskatastrofen
  • Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

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Our Assessment:

B+ : striking, effective voice

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftonbladet . 22/8/2013 Lidija Praizovic
The Independent . 5/3/2015 Max Liu
Politiken . 11/2/2014 S.E.Sonne
Svenska Dagbladet . 25/8/2013 Josefin Holmström
Swedish Book Review . II/2013 Anna Paterson
TLS . 17/7/2015 Francesca Wade

  From the Reviews:
  • "Boström Knausgårds stil är magisk, hallucinatorisk och väldigt poetisk. Hon är en baddare på att skildra känslor, stämningar och psykiska tillstånd utanför det tryggt normala. Det är passionerat, raffinerat och klart som kallt vatten. Den poetiska blicken på världen och det religiösa sättet att erfara på, får mig att tänka på Emily Dickinsons dikter." - Lidija Praizovic, Aftonbladet

  • "Some readers will be put off by the combination of lyricism and distress but I love the way Boström Knausgaard invests "Dad" -- one of the key words of our lives -- with fresh power. (...) This novella cannot be read quickly, its psychological range and febrile prose demand attentiveness. It takes skill and imagination to describe extreme emotions in ways to which everybody can relate but that's what Boström Knausgaard achieves in this short, piercing book." - Max Liu, The Independent

  • "Man læser Helioskatastrofen med en undren over, hvem dens fortæller egentlig er. Først tænker man, at det kan være, man får et svar, siden opdager man, at det slet ikke er det, det er romanens anliggende. Bogen balancerer nemlig mellem virkelighed og fantasi, og en pige, der ikke selv ved, hvem hun er, kan dårligt fortælle sin læser det." - Sophie Engberg Sonne, Politiken

  • "Boken uppmanar oss att fundera på vem som egentligen är frisk, och den gör det med paradoxalt lätt och poetisk hand. (...) Helioskatastrofen är myt och saga med drag av allegori, en bok för alla flickor och kvinnor som vuxit upp med en saknad efter en pappa -- vare sig han varit fysiskt frånvarande eller frånvarande i sin närvaro." - Josefin Holmström, Svenska Dagbladet

  • "Ideas are woven into the flowing text of this intense novella about a young woman sinking into a near-psychotic state. (...) Arguably ‘madness’ is not just an idea, but rather the essence of the book. Maintaining a precarious balance on the brink of madness, perhaps of death, is intrinsic to the life of the narrator (.....) The story is tightly, cleverly organised around a central idea: to show how Anna’s perceptive, disturbed mind struggles to impose some kind of mental order and, finally, fails" - Anna Paterson, Swedish Book Review

  • "Boström Knausgaard’s dreamy prose, poetically translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, is particularly evocative of the state when waking life blurs into dream. (...) Although its elliptical nature sometimes obstructs its meaning, this intriguing, lyrical novel is a powerful portrait of mental illness." - Francesca Wade, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The short, two-part novel The Helios Disaster is narrated by Anna. It opens with her explaining:

I am born of a father. I split his head.
       It is as if out of Greek mythology. So, too, then the fact that the birth-scream is the father's, not the child's. But the scene is not one of birth but of separation, the father's screams a manifestation of his mental breakdown. He is institutionalized; Anna -- not fully grown, but no longer a small child, either -- is placed with a foster family: parents Sven and Birgitta, and their two sons, Ulf and Urban.
       Anna is devastated by the separation, and continues to long for her father, Conrad:
I knew I had to get home to my father. That was the only thing I knew.
       Her integration into the well-meaning family remains tenuous. She's observant, and notes they have their own issues, but she finds it difficult to play her assigned role. Here and throughout she has difficulty communicating, whether expressing her feelings or articulating her thoughts -- in contrast to the strong and precise internal voice that Boström Knausgård gives her.
       Anna writes to her father, and receives letters from him in return. She does not press the issue of being reunited with him, but it is something she constantly strives towards -- in her own failing, grasping way.
       Her foster family is religious, and they find that she speaks in tongues, and so she performs every Sunday, an exhausting flow of babble bursting forth from within. For her, it is another link to her father, the schizophrenic who hears voices:
I looked up schizophrenia in the dictionary. Serious psychological illness with intellectual deterioration. I thought about the voices for a long time. About how my strange voice was healthy, even valuable, while his was sick and meant he had to be locked up in a hospital. I thought about how our different voices might be alike. That maybe the differences weren't as great as they had seemed at first.
       Indeed: it eventually turns out she is apparently not speaking in tongues; her burble of language is something different. And it turns out her mind, too, seems affected, much like her father's apparently is: it runs in the family.
       The second part of the novel finds the slightly older Anna -- a teenager now -- being institutionalized too. Urban, who brings her to the hospital, is her only connection to the family; the others don't come visit her (though they do send a letter, hoping for her return). Anna has sunk into deep depression, and struggles for some hold in the hospital; her father remains the one thing to reach for.
       What's remarkable about The Helios Disaster is how lucid Anna's voice and account is. Despite being lost in a haze, despite barely being able to communicate with those around her -- often she is unable or unwilling to talk; later she is barely capable of doing so because of the medications she's given -- she expresses herself clearly, observing rationally even as she often remains uncomprehending. Those around her rarely can get through to her, and she can rarely explain herself, yet she conveys both others and herself in clear and precise terms -- if also often childishly (or mentally unstably) unable to make connections. Everything may be a fog, yet it's also razor-sharply delineated.
       The conclusion finds her, in a way, reunited with her father. As in Greek tragedy, fate moves inexorably to its preordained conclusion. So too the fleeting glimpse of what the title had long warned of, the disaster of Helios Flight 522 of 2005, with its 121 dead:
I followed the plane's path across the sky, the white line it was writing on the sky.
     "They're going to die," said Conrad, and I nodded.
       The Helios Disaster is an unusual novel of mental instability and of childhood, presented in a striking voice. Boström Knausgård handles mental illness well, putting the reader in Anna's lucid but damaged mind, and while much of the novel can seem abrupt, the impressive, compact narrative does more than enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 March 2015

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The Helios Disaster: Reviews: Other books by Linda Boström Knausgård under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Linda Boström Knausgård was born in 1972.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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