In his latest crime novel, and his US debut, Christoffer Carlsson interrogates an eternal, but also very contemporary set of questions, so relevant in this age of true crime stories’ raging popularity.
Blaze Me a Sun: A Novel About a Crime by Christoffer Carlsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, Hogarth Press
“It was simply unthinkable. Not here. Not in Sweden.”
It is 1986, and Sweden’s Prime Minister has been assassinated. It is all over the news. The impact is felt in every household throughout the nation. Not only has the Prime Minister been killed, but so has the assumption of safety and security for all of Sweden.
That same night, a young woman is attacked and left for dead, alone in the back of her car parked off a country road. The attacker calls in, giving the girl’s location. “I’m going to do it again,” he warns. A veteran police officer, Sven Jörgensson drives out to the scene, dreading what he might find. “Everything in this life has to be done by someone,” he thinks, resigning himself to the task. “Even when it’s difficult to do.” And from that night until his death, Sven will not just pursue the killer, but pursue the truth. Or rather, just as the subtitle refers to a crime, perhaps Sven’s truth is but a truth.
It is decades later, and our narrator, unnamed except by the moniker Moth (drawn to the story like a moth to a flame, perhaps?), has moved back to his hometown and into his childhood home following a divorce. He is a successful author who long ago left that rural community and moved to the city, to Stockholm, to satisfy his ambition to do and be something more.
Upon his return he finds himself steeped in memories, curious about those who stayed and the lives they lived, and subconsciously looking for a story that will jolt him out of his personal and professional malaise. As a child he admired Sven, and Sven’s son Vidar. They were pillars of the community, hard workers, helpful and kind. Moth becomes entranced by what transpired that night in 1986, by Sven’s quest for the truth, and everything that came after. But the pieces don’t quite seem to fit, and he is driven, like Sven, to uncover his own version of the truth.
This construction allows Carlsson to interrogate an eternal, but also very contemporary set of questions, so relevant in this age of true crime stories’ raging popularity. Is the truth ever attainable? Is the pursuit of the truth a justifiable motive for entering other people's personal histories, often unbidden? Who gets to tell the story and who gets to claim the truth? And who owns the fallout as it cascades through time?
Here, our narrator defends his motives to Vidar, Sven’s son:
“I just want,” I said, and even as the words left my mouth I could hear how naïve and simple they sounded, “to figure out the truth.”
“The truth?” Vidar spat, “What truth? Whose truth? Yours? Everyone in the world walks around thinking they know the truth about themselves, their neighbors; they think they understand each other. But you have no idea. There is no limit to what we don’t know. And now you think you know how things stand. But truth means consequences. What do you honestly think would happen? … What would happen to us?”
Maybe he was right.
The pursuit of the truth could go on forever, or until all the survivors could forget there was any truth to be found. The truth was a fantasy. The truth never ended.”
Two deaths. One night that changes everything. For those who died. For those who would die. For those who loved them all. For those who would seek justice for them. For all those who would begin to lock their doors when they came home at night. For all those who would never regard their homes or their country as sanctuary again. And for all those who believed that finding the truth would bring about resolution.
With Blaze Me a Sun, Christoffer Carlsson offers readers a literary crime novel layered with complexity, with characters who are rich with specificity and humanity, and a story that is also a meta-narrative on story itself.