Review of The Merman by Carl Johan Vallgren

April 13, 2015

Beautiful, excellent, unforgettable and very touching. I have no other word to describe this novel, an extraordinary book written by the Swedish author Carl Johan Vallgren. This author, who is also a musician, wrote eight novels which have been translated in over 22 languages. The book I reviewed is titled “The Merman” and it is a fiction novel with a dash of magic and fantasy.

The Mermen tells about a sister and a brother who was abandoned by everybody, by their father who goes in and out of prison, by their mother who is alcohol addicted, by classmates and teachers. Surely life has been very cruel with the two poor guys. No-one cares about them, only the sister Nella has been always worried about her brother Robert who is also bullied by a teenagers gang headed by the malevolent Gerard.

It is Nella who defends Robert against vexations and insults, it is always Nella who cleans homes and makes dinner and lunch for Robert. This unlucky girl is only sixteen year old. Thanks to an extraordinary ability of writing, the author shows off the dark side of poverty in his developed country Sweden. Even in this perfect European country, misery and poverty make children’s life a hell. How is it possible turn the hell into a paradise?

Only with new friendships and solidarity and help from other sensitive persons. But excluded a teacher severely injured after a car accident, Nella and Robert have no-one who can help them! Help and friendship will arrive from a supernatural creature, a sort of monster of the sea retrieved from the waters of Denmark by the brothers of Tommy, a friend and classmate of Nella. The monster is probably a merman, the male gender of sirens. Locked into a basement, first and later inside a minks farm, the half man and fish is tortured by his fishermen.

Nella and Tommy manage to free the creature and it is at this point of the story that Carl Johan Vallgren reveals all of his greatness. Nella endures the attacks of Gerard and his gang, she is harassed by Gerard, who asks her for money and kidnapped Robert to get all he wants. Gerard is the evil in this novel, a fifteen year old teenager capable to attempt to kill the guardian of the school, to attempt to rape Nella in a wood along with his friends, and torture and burn a poor cat.

The presence of this malevolent character makes this reading very hard to swallow, but the book lovers are able to bear anything for reading a good book. Hard is also seeing two parents like the ones of Nella and Robert who forget to care their children. The level of emotional strain is very high in this novel, really, this author has been able to challenge the conventional rules of writing and storytelling, but also of the daily life.

I read the paper version of the book in Italian language, but the novel is available on Amazon in English also. The characters of the book are alive while you read, you can feel their emotions, even the ones of the creature that is the unique being to be capable to save the desperate life of Nella and Robert. The Merman is a story of injustice and gratitude, magic and reality, dream and desire to escape into a better world. The Merman is the book, not only a book and Carl Johan Vallgren is the author not only an author.

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