The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson

Three women
Three eras
One extraordinary mystery…

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Quebec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.

Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love…

Review

For a dedicated fan like myself any new novel by Johana Gustawsson is cause for excitement! So, when her new novel arrived, I cleared my calendar and dived right in. The verdict, it is marvelous, in fact the best word to describe it is breathtaking.

Why? The Bleeding is a clever and dazzling story of four women, for here I am counting Detective Grant who all live in different time periods, but whose lives weave in and out of each other, in often harrowing, but always deeply compelling ways. As we read, it quickly becomes clear that the author doesn’t shy away from taking her characters and readers down a dark path, that envelopes us all in a story that haunted me weeks after I have finished reading it.

When I picked it up, nothing could have prepared me for how the lives of these women would come to entwine themselves in my thoughts, because no matter how much I felt I knew them, their eventual fates left me feeling poleaxed. It is in many ways a historical thriller about the subjugation of women within a patriarchal society and the desperate lengths they are driven to, to find some form of liberation. The clever part is how the author shows how the women compartmentalized their lives, separating parts of themselves off to be lived in secret, showing the world only the parts of themselves their families would approve of. Yet even this was not enough and the repression of their individual parts, lead to the nightmarish events within The Bleeding.

Both the story and the personalities of the characters creates a narrative that is both vivid and times utterly grotesque, but in such a way that it seeps into your soul and putting down the book is simply not an option. You have to read on, even if you shudder as you read, because you are compelled to do so, just to find out if your darkest assumptions are true or not. The darkness tempered in the most perfect way, by the author’s understanding of motivation, the subtle line that divides love, hate, friendship and enmity. Each character is almost chameleon like, in that they can change their personality to fit in with their surroundings, until that fateful moment when exposed, we see what each is capable of in order to survive.

The story is superb, because these women are at the center of it. They are the story, their personalities, their actions, the paths they are driven down, making it far more than your average historical thriller. You can never be ready for what you are faced with: the way the words form something we don’t always acknowledge, that women are complex beings, as capable of evil, of desperate actions the same as men. It blows the myth of women as only ever forgiving and nurturing out of the water and that reader is why The Bleeding is breathtaking!

You can purchase this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books.

From Amazon and Waterstones.

About the author

Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, including Block 46, Keeper and Blood Song, has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. The Bleeding – number one bestseller in France and the first in a new series – will be published in 2022. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.

You can follow the author on Twitter

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