Reptile Memoirs by Silje Ulstein

Norway. In 2003, Liv is a troubled young woman who lives with two friends in a flatshare, when she falls in love with a snake. In 2017, Mariam, a successful business woman, leaves her 11 year old daughter at the store as punishment for a fight over a comic book. When the little girl fails to return home, the threads of the two stories start to combine.

The book is written mostly in chapters titled with Liv or Mariams name, but there is also chapters from other characters points of view, including a detective on the case with a dark past, a younger officer making her way in the force, and also, the snake. It’s one of those stories where you try to guess who might be who and what’s going on as little clues and titbits of information are dropped, and this is done very well.

This book has some really dark themes. It’s not gratuitous and all seemed to me as I read it to come naturally in the story. It’s not worse than what you’d hear in a true crime podcast as an example, but this book involves women, children and animals, so it’s not going to be for everyone.

That said, this book is so good. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, and I will be looking out for more from this author. It’s so odd and well paced, and the characters all have their own lives and agendas. They feel so real, and sympathetic, even though they’re not always nice. I loved the way that the woman who has gone numb from years of abuse, and who is functioning from the reptile part of her brain, falls in love with a reptile (you know, reptile, mammalian, neo cortex parts of the human brain). To me, the parts written from the snake’s perspective felt like Liv’s desperate and maybe psychotic projecting, but I have seen other people’s ideas on Goodreads, and they’re all interesting too.

This book is really twisty and drops some real plot twists at just the right time. It’s startling sometimes. This such an entertaining read, so much better than typical genre fare, and a bit longer and more involved, more subtle and dark. This feels more like literary fiction, perhaps, with a thriller plot. Or perhaps those Scandi-noir writers are just the kings of this genre. I kept thinking I had guessed little things and then I was not sure, second guessing myself. And the ending was just right.

This one comes highly recommended from me. And bonus points to the author: I think the magazine that Mariam and her daughter argue about sounds a lot like Monster High to me. (Which feels just right).

Read It If: you like twisty, startling, dark mysteries and good writing. Excellent. Be aware that the dark content may mean this one isn’t for you.

Thank you to PGC Books for the copy of this book for review.

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