LET THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ERASE YOUR NAME by Vendela Vida (HarperCollins), 228 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The story is old -- 30-something woman discovers that her dad isn't her biological father - but the voice is absolutely fresh.
Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name, Vendela Vida's third novel, is poetic, frank and compelling, following Clarissa's search for her real father from California all the way to Finland.
The novel begins with the death of Richard, the man Clarissa thought was her dad, and the discovery of her birth certificate and the name of her mother's lover. Her boyfriend, Pankaj, admits he's known this for years, which prompts Clarissa, who feels betrayed and distrustful, to head to Europe's most northern climes to research her past.
She's a fabulously drawn character. Fierce, funny and totally furious, she has major abandonment issues her mother mysteriously disappeared when she was 14 and steely determination.
Other characters also stand out: the sweet and devoted Pankaj, Sami healer Anna Kristine and even the minor figures, including oafish hotelier Kari. Vida has a knack for letting small situations say big things about people.
She also knows how to convey a great sense of place, in this case the nether regions of Finland, including a tourist spot featuring an ice hotel.
But the key to this fascinating page-turner (you could get through this in one night, no problem) is the imagery. From the first sentence, in which the dusk sets in like a bruise, to the last, where the reds and oranges of the sky look like they're hiding a beating heart, the book is crammed with vivid visuals and powerful emotions.
There's a tiny letdown somehow the narrative sags, even at the climax but that won't stop anyone from tearing through this novel to the very end.