The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson – three time periods, three women, three desperate situations

The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson

This is a complex and well written thriller with gothic elements, a murder mystery that erupts from the very beginning, and the story of three women in different time periods each with their own dilemmas and issues. It spares no details of a murder scene and subsequent grisly finds, but there is a genuine shock on the part of observers; this is far from people dismissing a killing as yet another event. There are women in the lead in every section with a range of backgrounds and stories. This is a carefully written book which emphasises the women as individuals, with their identities in various roles and individual challenges. It is a novel destined to linger in the memory, a book of cleverly interleaved stories and questions. There is delicacy as well as strength, love and genuine concern for others as well as determination to survive. There are different forms of motherhood and imaginative interest in the fate of other women in a solid setting. It is a successful novel that I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.

The opening section of the novel is set in 2002, narrated by Maxine. She is driving in difficult conditions, and thinking about her baby Hugo, as well as her older daughter Charlotte. This is Quebec, a place of more extreme weather, and, it emerges, the sort of small town knowledge of other people that can confuse police investigations. It seems that Maxine is police officer who is going to have to investigate a brutal murder, with the main suspect being known to her. Thus, she is addressed as Lieutenant Grant, as she is confronted by her former teacher, Mrs Caron, stained, spotted and streaked with blood. The next person to appear is a teenager, Lina, in post war Quebec of 1949. She is being tormented by some other girls who she calls the “two witches”. She has to go to the Rest Home where her widowed mother works as a carer and encounters an extraordinary older woman who suggest new ways to cope, unorthodox books to read, and an appreciation of the dying of the sun at sunset. As Lina continues to struggle with her tormentors, her “old lady” tries suggesting ways of maintaining her sense of worth, of resisting their attempts to embarrass and ridicule her. The third time period is “Belle Epoque Paris” in 1899, when Lucienne is a wealthy woman with two daughters who she has far more affection for than her rather disappointing husband. When tragedy strikes, she seeks comfort from some controversial sources, which in a way creates more questions than they answer.

This is a sophisticated novel which interleaves the story of the three women. As tenuous links begin to emerge between the stories of the women, so many clever themes weave in and out of the narrative. There is a greater emphasis on the more contemporary story, as a woman begins to persuade another to break her silence. This is a powerful novel in which women take the lead, sometimes in surprising way, and I found it difficult to put down as I was so keen to find out which narrative strand would feature next and what would happen. I recommend this as a rich immersive novel.