Quicksand – Henning Mankell – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
In 2011 Henning Mankell’s last novel featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander “The Troubled Man” was published in English. It is much darker than the previous novels in the series with Wallander having to confront a future marred by dementia which he had already seen destroy his father’s later years. Two years later Mankell had to confront his own health crisis, a diagnosis of a rare and aggressive cancer. Facing death, his response was to seek through his writing to “make sense of it all” and to examine that biggest question of all which he uses as a subtitle to his book “What it means to be a human being”.
The result of his searching is this book, a series of 67 short essays, which, sadly, was published only after his death which took place on 5th Oct 2015. Quicksand is an extraordinary book, mixing the intimate detail of incidents from his childhood and early life with the moral beliefs of a man whose concern with social justice had dictated the pattern of his mature years. The biographical essays include Mankell’s reaction to being abandoned by his mother when he was a baby and his complicated relationship with his father, a theme that runs through many of the Wallander books.
The book’s title refers to Mankell’s reaction on learning of his cancer. In his first chapter he tells of feeling as if he was being sucked into a pit of quicksand. After his initial panic he talks of his struggle to overcome his fear and live to the full what life remains. “In the end I was able to crawl back out of the sand and begin to come to terms with what had happened. I no longer thought in terms of lying down and waiting for death to come.”
Though death is never far from the core of these essays, this is by no means a maudlin or depressing book. While he examines the brevity of human life and its insignificance in the context of the history of the universe, in each individual life he sees a great potential for fulfilment and happiness. A number of his recollections are based in Mozambique where he worked for many years as a theatre director. Here, in spite of the great poverty and hardship he often witnessed, he found a solidarity and generosity of spirit that reaffirmed for him the power of hope.
This is an important book, moving and stimulating. Though there are personal reminiscences it is not an autobiography, rather a reminder to gather rosebuds while we may and not take for granted the life and world we inhabit. There are essays that you will want to reread and others that will take on a special significance at different times of our lives. Though sober in content it is, oddly, uplifting and life-affirming.
It is read here by Sean Barrett, one of Audible’s most popular readers, whose measured, serious, respectful tone suits its subject perfectly.
Mankell described this book as being full of “the great zest for life, which came back when I managed to drag myself out of the Quicksand that threatened to suck me down into the abyss” and it is this love of humanity and the world that surrounds us that we take away when we finish this book.
The audiobook lasts 9h 32 and is available from audible.co.uk.