There are voices we don’t hear from often enough in literature. Shuggie, the young son of an alcoholic in Shuggie Bain, is one example; Kristina, or Inni, in The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg, another. A drug addict and prostitute about to be murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable, invisible to society until, for a fleeting moment, she grabs the public’s attention as a victim of a horrific crime. Inni, talks to us from the afterlife, taking us through the day of the crime and how she got there. It’s a tough read this book, mainly because of the graphic violence but perhaps even more because it holds up a mirror to ourselves and our society’s failure to see people like Inni. Shell shockingly good.
As she’s led into the forest to be killed, Inni has sunk so low that she feels this is what she deserves.
‘…maybe this was exactly what I had been waiting for all the time. Perhaps I had always hoped for a way out of the world, the back hole suddenly opening to devour me.’
Inni, born to a family of alcoholics whose constant drinking gets in the way of the most basic childcare, joins a generational cycle of neglect, self-destruction and self-loathing. When it’s her turn, Inni’s love for drugs always trumps the love for her own children. Watching the future evolve from beyond the grave, like an angel on a cloud, Inni takes us backwards and forwards in time, portraying what she sees as her inevitable destiny.
It’s not sensationalist this book, thanks to Stridsberg’s gentle, compassionate treatment of the protagonist. The Antarctica of Love is simply searingly beautifully written, sometimes difficult to read, other times deeply moving. Those brave enough to read it will never forget it.
The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg is translated by Deborah Dragan-Turner and published by MacLehose Press, 269.