Quicksand

A mass shooting has taken place at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb. Maja Norberg is eighteen years old and on trial for her involvement in the massacre where a number of people were killed, including her boyfriend and her best friend. When the novel opens, Maja has spent nine excruciating months in jail awaiting trial. Now the time has come for her to enter the courtroom. But how did Maja, the good girl next door who was popular and excelled at school, become the most hated teenager in the country? What did Maja do? Or is it what she didn’t do that brought her here?

As the trial proceeds, we flash back to the months leading up to the school shooting and learn about the turning point in Maja’s life: falling in love with Sebastian Fagerman, the son of Sweden’s richest business tycoon. Sebastian is dazzling but dangerous and Maja is drawn to him like a moth to a flame. As her relationship with Sebastian takes over her life, Maja increasingly loses touch with her parents and friends who fail to hear her silent calls for help.

Behind an affluent community’s slick façade, racial and class tensions are rife, drugs proliferate, and adults are absent. As a young girl loses her footing, the adult world fails one of its promised daughters, and each and every one of us is quick to throw the first stone. Is Maja a cold-blooded murderer or is she just a girl who has lost her way, and now has also lost the ones she loved?

The trial serves as a suspenseful framework for this gut-wrenching coming of age story that is utterly impossible to put down and in which we see the world entirely through Maja’s eyes. Her voice is quirky, snarky and wholly unique – we don’t always love Maja, but we love to be inside her head. In Maja Norberg, Malin Persson Giolito has created a darker Hazel Lancaster, a millennial Holden Caulfield, a young woman we both admire and despise and whose distinct voice and tragic circumstances are reminiscent of Ani in Luckiest Girl Alive.

In November 2016 Quicksand won the title of Best Crime Novel of the Year, Sweden’s official suspense literature award, which is given by the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy. The jury’s motivation reads as follows:

A psychological courtroom drama, originally told in a sharp and playful style.

In August 2017, Quicksand was awarded the prestigious Glass Key Award and thus named Best Nordic Crime Novel by the Crime Writers of Scandinavia.

“Let me say this from the start: this is an extraordinarily good book, and it’s not just a question of plot and not even about what Malin Persson Giolito wants to say. It’s simply incredibly skillfully told, every sentence filled with fury and a written colloquial language so razor-sharp, forceful, and well put that few authors come close to it. This is what a good book should be – everything is secondary to the pure pleasure of reading it.”
Lotta Olsson, Dagens Nyheter (SE)

“A remarkable new novel from Sweden […] Giolito, who practiced law before she turned to fiction, writes with exceptional skill. […] Giolito keeps us guessing a long time and the outcome, when it arrives, is just as it should be.”
The Washington Post (US)

Quicksand is a novel that beings like a parlor game gone awry: On its first page, a little cross section of contemporary Swedish society – a right-on homeroom reacher, a Ugandan foster child, a cashmere-clad blonde, a son of Middle Eastern immigrants – lies on the floor, splattered with blood, as if darkly satirizing the country’s self-image of civilized multiculturalism. […] What we’re reading here is not so much Maria’s unfiltered thoughts as her speech to an imaginary audience: Mostly we listen in as she tries to make sense of what happened, but she occasionally addresses us directly, speculating as to what assumptions we might make about her and what comfy delusions we may be harboring about ourselves. The voice is uneven, unpredictable in a way that feels characteristic of a teenager. […] the novel is structured as a courtroom procedural, yet ot clearly has ambitions beyond that, addressing Sweden’s underlying economic and racial tensions.”
The New York Times Book Review (US)

“Compelling and brutally candid, especially about modern adolescence, this is not a comfortable book, but the story is so superbly told that it lingers in the mind long after the jury’s verdict.”
The Daily Mail (UK)

“The reader gets sucked into the story from the very first page… The protagonist in Quicksand makes observations about her surroundings: they are sharp, relentless, and at times truly witty – brilliantly portrayed by the author. […] Much is at stake for the protagonist, Maja, where she stands as the accused. Malin Persson Giolito handels this excellently. She writes in an unvarnished, ‘no-nonsense’ and direct style, where everything is played out through the eyes and mind of Maja. Never for a moment does it fall flat, but it is rather to the point and elegant. And well-balanced, because it never tips over in cynicism. […] Quicksand was named Best Crime Novel of the Year by the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy in 2016. Incredibly well-deserved.”
BOK 365 (NO)

“After the first page, I was hooked. I kept reading as if I were hypnotized. This is an extraordinary novel, one that rises above most of what has been published in the suspense genre. […] A courtroom drama about love and class, life and death. And an unforgettable portrayal of a young girl.”
Ingalill Mossander, Aftonbladet (SE)

“Giolito’s astonishing English-language debut is a dark exploration of the crumbling European social order and the psyche of rich Swedish teens. […] In crafting a first-person narrative told by a school shooter, many authors would go too far, creating and overly likable character; Giolito masterfully walks this fine line, developing a protagonist whom readers will remain intrigued by and ambivalent about, but who they won’t necessarily like. Giolito’s past as a lawyer and as a European Union official poke through the pages as she exposes the curing racism that refugees in Europe endure, even in supposed left-wing-idyll Sweden. Praise must also go to translator Willson-Broyles, as the incisive language that’s on display here surely involves translation precision that’s second to none.”
Booklist, starred review (US)

Quicksand is a novel focused on a school shooting, but in no way feels hackneyed or dependent on its timeliness. In fact, it’s not really about a school shooting at all. It’s about larger abstractions, like loyalty an codependence, love and guilt, the incredibly complicated business of being a teenager, criminal justice systems (Sweden’s in particular, and as a concept), the role of the media and what a parent’s job entails. Expert dialogue and irresistible momentum make an all-too-realistic story come breathing off the page. It’s a novel that demands compassion, and an appreciation for the fine gradations of situations that tend to be treated as black and white. Part courtroom thriller, part introspection, Quicksand is pulled tight throughout by the suspense, not only of Maja’s verdict, but of the elusive ‘truth’ of what really happened in the classroom that day.”
Shelf Awareness (US)

“Sharp social commentary through the tragic story of a young woman’s trial for mass murder. Swedish novelist Giolito begins her English-language debut with a powerful view of a crime scene. To the narrator, 18-year-old Maja, her fellow classmates are still in the present tense, the horror not yet real. […] The literary anticipation here is in the telling of the tale, the facts that turn the story to something else, and yes, the verdict. The rhythm, tone, and language are just right, due in great part to the fine translation by Willson-Broyles. Giolito gives us the unsettling monologue of a teenage girl as she works her way through her role in murder. It is a splendid work of fiction.”
Kirkus (US)

“The storytelling flies with a furious pace […] Malin Persson Giolito writes as though this story is the most important of all, and she succeeds in making it feel that way.”
Sydsvenskan (SE)

“[S]he has, in short time, stepped forward as one of the country’s most interesting contemporary writers. […] The cover of Quicksand calls it a procedural thriller. Sure, this is at times a breathlessly suspenseful novel. But there is still a risk in categorizing the book in the thriller genre – that may risk reducing the gravity with which it is written. Few recent novels have gripped me as forcefully as the final pages of Malin Persson Giolito’s Quicksand.”
Stig Larsson, Expressen (SE)

“It’s difficult to resist Malin Persson Giolito’s courtroom thriller Quicksand. […] It is a frightening portrayal of our time, where the distance between the adult and teenage world is a broad gulf. It is almost impossible for the two worlds to approach one another, just as it is for those who have versus those who have not. Because class divides are central in Persson Giolito’s portrayal of how this school shooting was made possible in a world where prejudice has not one, but many, faces.”
Norrbottens-Kuriren (SE)

“Truth be told, Malin Persson Giolito’s fourth novel, Quicksand, is an indictment of the zeitgeist. Victor Hugo called quicksand ’a pit of mire in a cavern of night’ in Les Misérables. Appearing safe, a bog pulls you down – deeper if you struggle, as the protagonist does figuratively in this English-language debut. […] Quicksand is a whodunit, not a whodunnit. What exactly did Maja do – or not do? Seeking that answer, Persson Giolito employs the young woman in broader queries. What is ’truth’ Or ’justice’? How unequal can a society become while remaining stable? […] Quicksand will pull you in, to wonder at the end if it’s over.”
World Literature Today (US)

“President Donald Trump once referenced a great tragedy that occurred in Sweden. Though he recently admitted the mistake, he could have been referring to the Djursholm Massacre. […] The Djursholm Massacre never actually made it onto the bottom scroll of Fox News or onto a Twitter feed, because it never happened. It’s the subject of Malin Persson Giolito’s first English language novel, Quicksand, and the book is riveting. It was selected as the Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2016, but that category seems too restrictive and should be broadened to Best Crime Novel of 2016. […] These underpinnings within the novel touch upon some very existential dilemmas that we all must face in life. Maja, with hours and hours alone in her cell, reflect and ponders her role in the tragedy as well as her role in the world. This would be heady stuff for a person well-traveled and decades into a lifetime; for a teenage girl just beginning life’s journey with every opportunity seemingly before her, the situation is nearly crippling. Like slowly drowning in quicksand. Giolito has written a revelatory novel that’s worth reading and referencing as a fine work of fiction.”
The Free Lance-Star (US)

“Malin Persson Giolito has written a perceptive portrayal of a young woman and a blistering indictment of a society that is coming apart. A work of great literary sensibility, Quicksand touches on class, money, migration, and the games one plays with oneself when parents are no longer attuned to the struggles of their children.”
Bookreporter (US)

“It has been a very long time since I read such a beautiful portrayal of what it’s like to be young and struggling with the demands of both society, school, your parents and yourself. […] This is – without compare – the best book I’ve read so far this year.”
Dast Magazine (SE)

“This is, without exaggeration, one of the best Swedish books I have ever read. Malin Persson Giolito takes me into a courtroom drama I’ll probably never forget.”
Skaraborgs Allehanda (SE)

“It’s been a long time since I read such a well-structured and well-informed story.”
Skånska Dagbladet (SE)

 

“It’s awesome! The only credible Swedish courtroom drama I’ve ever read.”
Jens Lapidus

“Subliminal story, masterfully told.”
Håkan Nesser

Malin Persson Giolito is a lawyer and writer based in Brussels, Belgium. Her latest novel, Quicksand (2016), was published to a chorus of critical praise, and it was named both Best Swedish Crime Novel and Best Nordic Crime Novel of the year.

Learn more about Malin Persson Giolito