Shadows in the Twilight by Henning Mankell
Review by Barbara Shoup
“I have another story to tell.
The story of what happened next, when the summer was over. When the mosquitoes had stopped singing and the nights turned cold. Autumn set in, and Joel Gustafson had other things to think about. He hardly ever went to his rock by the river, to gaze up at the sky. It was as if the dog that headed for its star no longer existed. Or perhaps it had never existed? Had it all been a dream? Joel didn’t know. But in the end he decided it was all to do with the fact that he’d soon be twelve. After his twelfth birthday he’d be too big to sit on a rock and dream about a strange dog that might never have existed in the real world.”
So begins Henning Mankell’s, Shadows in the Twilight .
My curiosity was piqued. What was the first story, I wondered? What dog? What rock? Were they a dream or were they real?
I never found out—which did not make me a happy reader.
The book is “a companion” to Mankell’s earlier Bridge to the Stars, which I presume tells the story of the dog and the rock. The problem is, sequel or not, a book must be able to stand on its own. Shadows in the Twilight might have. It has an interesting premise.
Almost-twelve-year-old Joel steps out into the street without looking one day and narrowly escapes death when he ends up sliding underneath an oncoming truck as it skids to avoid hitting him, instead of being crushed beneath its wheels. “It’s a miracle,” everyone says. And Joel gets it in his mind that he must “pay” for the miracle by doing a good deed.
He settles upon finding a man for his friend, Gertrud, a whimsical, lonely “child-woman” who has no nose because of a botched operation. The decision—and the identification of two prospects—results in a series of adventures that introduce the reader to many of the people who live in Joel’s small Swedish village. Like Mad Simon, who lives in a run-down house in the forest; the Barefooted Man, chief engineer of the world beneath the village, and Kringstrom, the leader of the town orchestra. Doing a good deed turns out to be a good deal more complicated than Joel imagined, with mostly unhappy results.
Between these escalating adventures, Joel lives with his father Samuel, a quiet man trying to put their lives back together after the disappearance of Jenny—his wife and Joel’s mother. He goes to school where he’s bullied by his nemesis Otto and lives in fear of his teacher his dour teacher, Miss Nederstrom, who’s quick to twist his ear for the smallest infraction.
Told simply, one event merging nicely into the next, the story has the quality of a fable. Mankell’s writing is clear, and his deft descriptions bring both the characters and the town vividly to the page. But, for me, the threads of plot he set in motion were not adequately resolved. And I have to say I really have no idea why Shadows in the Twilight is being marketed as a young adult novel. Though Joel ponders growing up throughout the book, he’s still much more a child than an adolescent.
- Reading level: Young Adult
- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (July 8, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385734964
- ISBN-13: 978-0385734967
- Source: Review copy from publisher