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A Girl In A Swing by Richard Adams.

Ceramics dealer, Alan Desland, meets and marries a beautiful German woman on a business trip in Copenhagen.  Most people would gossip about the swift courtship.  After all, Alan knows nothing about Käthe’s past, nor does he seem to care. It’s all so hasty, and it’s nothing like Alan’s usual style of careful and conservative planning.

After the hasty elopement, I read onward hoping to reach the point where Käthe’s secret would be revealed, ’cause you know there’s gotta be one, right? In my last post, I guessed that maybe she was a ghost, a vampire or a werewolf (or were-rabbit for you Watership Down readers).

Alan and Käthe’s life begins with much felicity. Käthe is a caring wife who wins over Alan’s family as well as his friends and neighbors.  At a local estate sale, she makes an amazing purchase of a rare figurine called “Girl In a Swing.”  Though she spent only 20 pounds for the figurine, its real value is over six figures.  It’s like finding a lost Monet in your grandmother’s attic.  Life is perfect.

Then, strange things start happening– a child’s stuffed animal (a green tortoise) is left behind in one of the bedrooms.  When Alan goes back to look for it, it’s no longer there.  Alan speaks to a strange little girl over the phone who cries and asks him to tell her mummy that she is coming.  Then, Alan hears more crying in the shrubbery behind the house.

Alan is the story’s narrator. He is rigid and dull.  He prefers the tidiness of objects and ideas– like languages and ceramics– to human relations, which are more rewarding, but messier.

Ultimately, Alan is an unreliable narrator.  I was duped into thinking that he was unaware, but deep down, he knew the terrible thing Käthe did to be with him.  One can’t help but recoil from Alan because he narrates that he would not have changed a thing.

I don’t like Käthe.  I thought I did, but in the end, I didn’t. Her guilt overwhelmed her, and yet, I don’t think she wanted forgiveness.

How is one forgiven?  Discussions regarding religion and forgiveness are scattered throughout the book, but this is just a red herring.  Käthe and Alan never wanted forgiveness, they just wanted each other even though the cost was too high.

It is a work full of contrasts– guilt without forgiveness, a haunting without ghosts, and horror without terror.

Christianity teaches that love brings us closer to the divine.  It raises up fallen beings. But Alan and Kathe’s love is not enviable.  It’s fallen love. It was premised upon an abhorrent foundation, so it could never grow into maturity.

In the end, all Alan is left with the cold, ceramic figurine of ‘the girl in a swing.’

If you do read this book (which I highly recommend), here are a few tips. 

  1. Don’t skim or skip over passages, especially the first few chapters.  What seems irrelevant is the shrubbery in which the author hides the hints of Käthe’s terrible secret.
  2. Don’t let the deliberate pace bore you.  Yes, it starts off pretty slow.  The pace never really picks up, but all the same, you get hooked.  It is very much like hearing the slow and sinister steps from far away.  As the sound draws nearer, the tension heightens. It’s not because the pace is any faster, but because you know the end is near.

This was a pretty good Halloween book.  It was suspenseful without being too scary and it was also a bit of a psychological thriller.  I think I need a “pick me up” book to read now, something with a happy ending. What’s your favorite happy ending book?  Have you read any of Richard Adam’s novels?  Did you like them?

Acknowledgements and Attributions

Figurine 02.07.09” is courtesy of Flickr user Timlewisnm and used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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