Malin Persson Giolito translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Quicksand

Quicksand

Publication Date: Aug 07, 2018

432 pp


NOW IN PAPERBACK

Named an NPR “BEST BOOKS OF 2017”

Named the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year by the Swedish Crime Writers Academy

An incisive courtroom thriller and a drama that raises questions about the nature of love, the disastrous side effects of guilt, and the function of justice

A mass shooting has taken place at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb. Eighteen-year-old Maja Norberg is charged for her involvement in the massacre that left her boyfriend and her best friend dead. She has spent nine months in jail awaiting trial. Now the time has come for her to enter the courtroom. How did Maja—popular, privileged, and a top student—become a cold-blooded killer in the eyes of the public? What did Maja do? Or is it what she failed to do that brought her here?

Malin Persson Giolito has written a perceptive portrayal of a teenage girl and a blistering indictment of a society that is coming apart. A work of great literary sensibility, Quicksand touches on wealth, class, immigration, and the games children play among themselves when parents are no longer attuned to their struggles.



Excerpt from Quicksand

Lying next to the left-hand row of desks is Dennis; as usual he’s wearing a graphic tee, jeans from a big-box store, and untied tennis shoes. Dennis is from Uganda. He says he’s seventeen, but he looks like a fat twenty-five year old. He’s a student in the trade school, and he lives in Sollentuna in a home for people like him. Samir has ended up next to him, on his side. Samir and I are in the same class because Samir managed to be accepted to our school’s special program in international economics and social sciences.

Up at the lectern is Christer, our homeroom teacher and self-described social reformer. His mug has overturned and coffee is dripping onto the leg of his pants. Amanda, no more than two meters away, is sitting propped against the radiator under the window. Just a few minutes ago, she was all cashmere, white gold, and sandals. The diamond earrings she received when we were confirmed are still sparkling in the early-summer sunshine. But now you might think she was covered in mud. I am sitting on the floor in the middle of the classroom. In my lap is Sebastian, the son of the richest man in Sweden, Claes Fagerman.

The people in this room do not go together. People like us don’t usually spend time together. Maybe on a metro platform during a taxi-driver strike, or in the dining car on a train, but not in a classroom.

It smells like rotten eggs. The air is hazy and gray with gunpowder smoke. Everyone has been shot but me. I haven’t got even as much as a bruise.


Named an NPR “BEST BOOKS OF 2017”

“This is the evolution of Scandinavian crime, in more ways than one.” —Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove

“A remarkable new novel…Giolito…writes with exceptional skill…[Quicksand is] always smart and engrossing…Giolito keeps us guessing a long time and the outcome, when it arrives, is just as it should be.” —Washington Post

“[Quicksand] provides a razor-sharp view of modern Sweden and its criminal justice system, yet is a tonic for readers who have had enough of the brooding, often-bloody ‘Scandi-crime’ that has been so popular in recent years.” —NPR

“Astonishing…a dark exploration of the crumbling European social order and the psyche of rich Swedish teens…the incisive language that’s on display here surely involves translation precision that’s second to none.” —Booklist (starred review)

“[Quicksand] is structured as a courtroom procedural, yet it clearly has ambitions beyond that, addressing Sweden’s underlying economic and racial tensions.” —New York Times Book Review

“Brilliantly conceived and executed, this extraordinary legal thriller is not to be missed.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Haunting and immersive.” —Publishers Weekly

“Expert dialogue and irresistible momentum make an all-too-realistic story come breathing off the page…Part courtroom thriller, part introspection, Quicksand is pulled tight throughout by the suspense, not only of Maja’s verdict, but of the elusive ‘truth’ of what really happened in the classroom that day.” —Shelf Awareness 

“Thrilling.” —TIME

“Sharp social commentary through the tragic story of a young woman’s trial for mass murder…The rhythm, tone, and language are just right…a splendid work of fiction.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Persson Giolito’s craft takes us on a psychological ride.” —Huffington Post

“A compelling, multi-layered study of a terrible school shooting.” —Boston Herald

“A fascinating look at modern society, class, race, and the definition of justice.” —Sharon K. Nagel, Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI

“For everyone who wants more behind the scenes of a courtroom, this is the book. The narrator keeps you so involved in the story. I could not put this book down.” —Shane P. Mullen, Left Bank Books in St. Louis, MO

“Very well done…This book provided more insight into why these things happen, and the conditions that lead up to them, than any other book I have read, or any of the mental health talking heads I have watched and listened to on television.” —Diane Scholl, Batavia Public Library in Batvia, IL


1. On page 291 Sander asks, “Is that who Maja is?” Who is Maja? How would you describe her?

2. What do you think of the narrator’s—Maja’s—voice? Does it change over the course of the novel? Do you think Maja’s narration of her own story attracts you to her, or are you repelled by it? How would your reaction to or understanding of Maja change if Quicksand were not told in the first person?

3. On page 109 Maja says Sebastian “refused to let go, refused to give up, refused.” Describe what her relationship with Sebastian is like. Do you think Maja felt pressure to date Sebastian? Could she have refused to date him? On page 357 Maja says Sebastian “couldn’t live without me, it was a question of life and death.” Does their relationship change as Maja reveals more of her story, or does it remain essentially the same?

4. On page 403 Maja’s mother says “Maja loved Amanda.” Do you agree with her? Why or why not?

5. What are the differences between Sebastian and Samir? Are there any instances in which Sebastian and Samir both treat Maja in the same way? Do you think Quicksand sets them up as foils to each other? What role does each play in how Maja tries to define herself?

6. Over the course of the novel Maja calls several people “stupid”—Lena Pärsson (p 92), Samir (p 203), Sebastian (p 261). She describes her parents varyingly as vain, materialistic, and overly concerned with their class position and how they are perceived by others. Why do you think she has such a cynical view of the people around her? Are there anyone who Maja sees in a good light?

7. On page 385 Maja says this of Claes, Sebastian’s father:

“Claes wasn’t ashamed, why would he be? He was never ashamed; nothing could threaten him, there was nothing he couldn’t say or do in front of the entire world.”

What are the things Maja feels shame for? How is her shame related to her feelings of guilt?

8. On page 391 Samir tells Maja “You aren’t responsible for [Sebastian].” Her mother, meanwhile, tells her “He needs you, Maja” (p 354). How are the adults around Maja and Sebastian implicated in the murders at the center of the trial? Do you think the adults in Maja’s life failed her in any way?

9. Is there a difference between what Maja thinks and narrates, and how the people around her perceive her actions? Do you trust Maja?

10. Quicksand is set in Sweden. Are there instances in which Maja’s descriptions of race and class relations are applicable to the United States?