What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis

A young mother with PTSD symptoms comes to terms with past memories when shewhat my body remembers revisits the town in coastal Denmark where she witnessed her father kill her mother.

Ella is a real mess of a person.  She’s on the governmental dole and lives in a slummy project in Copenhagen.  Highly anti-social and prone to brutal panic attacks that render her laid-up, Ella drinks her demons away and tries to provide a home life for her eleven year old son Alex, who is basically all she has.  Social service does not look kindly on Ella’s lifestyle, and places Alex in a foster home during one of her more lengthy panic attacks.

With one last-ditch idea, Ella takes her son from foster care with the intent of going to live in her grandmother’s vacated home on the coast of northern Jutland.  As her finances are limited (her government check is a pittance), the promise of free lodging, however ramshackle, is a good thing.

The seaside setting is a real boon to Alex – he easily makes friends with the surfers that frequent the beaches there.  Companionship also comes to Ella in the person of Barbara, a strange but affable woman who moves herself in and “helps” Ella – mainly with the acquisition of alcohol.  There’s also Thomas, a well-meaning young man in the neighborhood who remembers Ella as a childhood friend.  She does not, or cannot, reciprocate.

After a few run ins with an older man who insists Ella visit her grandmother, Ella does eventually, and starts to take a real interest in the events that led up to her mother’s death.  Her grandmother insists that Ella’s father was innocent.  Ella doesn’t believe her at first, but as she doesn’t remember much of anything previous to the night of her mother’s murder, what really happened is open to speculation.

What My Body Remembers features a main character that is unreliable, snarly, and not really sympathetic.  Ella is all too human, somebody who witnessed something horrific in childhood, so much that she hasn’t had a life since.  As unlikable as she is, she’s also pitiful.  Nobody really wants anything to do with her, and her attitude doesn’t help her.  However, there’s still room for redemption here, and you want to root for Ella even as you might grit your teeth at the things she does.

Ella reminds me of Libby Day, the main character of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, who also goes through a similar childhood trauma, and as an adult, is not particularly appealing.  Read both books if you like your protagonists raw and damaged.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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