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Reptile memoirs : a novel
2022
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Library Journal Review
Set in Norway from 2005 to 2017, Ulstein's twisty debut commands attention. The many unusual characters (including a python) and shifting times and viewpoints are compelling. Narrator Julie Maisey excels in her depiction of Mariam Linn, who becomes outraged with her 11-year-old daughter and leaves her to make her way home alone. Seven hours later, Mariam returns home to find that her daughter has not returned, which horrifies her husband and ignites an intense police investigation. Mariam conducts her own search, and her bizarre past emerges, revealing a connection to Liv, a young woman in 2003 who behaved unpredictably, buying a snake and forming an unhealthy attachment to him. This is a riveting but painful story, emotively presented by Maisey, who imbues the story with an ongoing sense of foreboding. The police procedural is intriguing, and while few characters are appealing, they are well drawn. In particular, detective Roe Olsvik is wonderfully rendered as both patient and introspective. VERDICT The persistent listener will be rewarded with an extraordinary story and a satisfying audiobook experience.--Susan G. Baird
Publishers Weekly Review
Ulstein's choppy debut charts the nightmarish connections among two women, an unhinged cop on the verge of retirement, and a tiger python. In 2003, nursing student Liv and her two hard-partying roommates buy the snake and name it Nero, though Liv quickly claims the snake for herself, locking it in her room and growing sexually aroused when feeding it. In 2017, Mariam refuses to buy her 11-year-old daughter, Iben, a comic book, and the girl runs away. Chief Inspector Roe Olsvik, 60, is assigned to the case of Iben's disappearance. He suspects Mariam of foul play, and his investigation soon crosses several ethical boundaries. The trauma of abuse is central to both Liv's and Mariam's stories, with Liv having been assaulted by her older brother growing up, and Iben being the result of a rape that occurred before Mariam was married. Chapters narrated by Nero, who reflects on his snake siblings and at one point does a very bad thing, add an awkwardly fey perspective ("I saw her face. Something was dripping from it--salty drops from her eyes," he recounts of Liv), and psychological intrigue abounds as the parallel narratives gradually coalesce, revealing Olsvik's motivations for stalking Mariam. There are some surprises, as not every character turns out to be who they seem, but the twists largely feel contrived and the result of fortuitous discoveries. Still, the depiction of the characters' pain adds depth to this literary thriller. (Mar.)
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