The cover of Karin Alvtegen’s Swedish crime novel, Betrayal, states the book is “reminiscent of Ruth Rendell at her best.” The comparison is valid, but for this reader, Betrayal is much darker than anything I’ve read by Rendell. The plot has the same tight claustrophobic feel of Rendell’s novels, but Betrayal is far more twisted.
Meet Eva, an energetic young mother to her 6-year-old son Axel. Eva has been married to Henrik for 11 years, and when the novel opens, Henrik tells Eva, in response to a question, that he’s unsure of their future together. The only reason Henrik will give is that they “don’t have fun anymore.” The truth is he’s embroiled in an affair with Axel’s daycare teacher, Linda. Of course he isn’t about to admit that and shoulder any blame. Instead, according to Henrik, it’s all Eva’s fault.
We get a bit of he said/she said:
Everything finished and ready before he even managed to see that it needed to be done. Always ready to solve every problem, even those that were none of her concern, before he even had a chance to think about it. Like an impatient steam locomotive she charged ahead, trying to make everything right. But it was not possible to fix everything. The more he tried to demonstrate how distant he felt, the more zealously she made sure it wouldn’t be noticed. And with each day that passed he had grown more conscious that it really didn’t matter what he did. She didn’t need him any more.
Eva sees things differently:
She did what had to be done first, and then what she really wanted to do if there was any time left over. He did just the opposite. And by the time he had done what he wanted to do, whatever had to be done was already done. She envied him. She would love to be able to act like that. But then everything would collapse.
The ying-yang of their relationship was probably why they got together in the first place, but all that is lost, buried under a dung-heap of marital resentment. I suppose this is where marriage counseling comes in, but in Eva and Henrik’s case, they don’t go that route. Meanwhile elsewhere in town, Jonas, a deeply troubled 26 year old man, visits his comatose girlfriend in hospital every day. This has been going on for the past 2 years 5 months, and once a week he sleeps next to her on her hospital bed. His devotion is amazing, and yet at the same time, it’s a bit too much … it’s disturbing.
So here we have Jonas who sticks to his comatose girlfriend’s side like glue and Eva and Henrik who are on the brink of a marital explosion. Eva, who in the face of divorce, has a terrible sense of failure, discovers Henrik’s affair. She launches a plan for revenge, and then she meets Jonas.
The novel excels at showing the he said/she said versions of the marriage, and the deeply dysfunctional grooves of established marital behaviour. This is a very dark, depressing tale, relentless in its bitter look at the psyches of these damaged people. It’s not as well-written as Rendell IMO, and it’s an almost unpleasant albeit cleverly plotted read.
Translated by Stephen T Murray
One response to “Betrayal: Karin Alvtegen”
I remember this one well, probably because I was reading it at the time I was divorcing. Funnily enough, I don’t remember how it ends (that tends to happen quite often with me and crime fiction, for some reason).