Dan Sehlberg’s Mona is the first book of a two-part thriller, its sequel Sinon being due for release this year.
The plot is breathtaking in its frightening possibility:
Eric is a computer science professor who invents a thought-controlled system for browsing the web and, while some readers might think this is merely imaginative sci-fi, the truth is it is far too close to reality for comfort. Eric’s system collides with Professor Samir Mustaf’s newly-created computer virus with catastrophic results and it is just a matter of time before the lives of Eric and Samir become entwined.
When Eric’s wife Hannah becomes infected with a mystery virus, Eric is convinced that his browsing system has somehow become involved in passing the latest sophisticated computer virus on to her. No-one believes him so he embarks on his own quest to find answers and to save his wife who has drifted into a coma. In the process, Eric has to deal with Mossad, Hezbollah and the FBI nipping at his heels.
The intrigue and espionage extend to a Palestinian spy in the highest levels of the Israeli government and a ruthless Mossad assassin – Rachel Papo – who, despite being psychopathic in intent, finds some softness in her heart when it counts most.
There are a number of extremely contrived plot devices and, while it is difficult to settle into an easy belief and relax into the ride, accepting the coincidences that help us on our journey, it is not so difficult to accept the credibility of the fantastic results of the meeting of the virus with the thought-control program.
There’s something of the fairy-tale twist in the denouement that is unfortunately rare in real life, particularly when we are dealing with the volatility of the middle-east. If only these two men from opposite sides of the ideological, philosophical and religious spectrum could so easily bury their differences. If only two men could alter such catastrophic events. If only life were so simple.
I didn’t find much in the way of Literary style in Sehlberg’s prose but I know little about the translation process and, as I cannot read the novel in its original, there is no way for me to tell how much of the style is completely Sehlberg’s and what – if any – is as a result of the translation. The translator Rachel Willson-Broyles, was lauded for the exceptional job she did with Jonas Hassen Khemeri’s 2011 novel Montecore.
Word choices and sentence structures are sometime jarring.
‘Parents – exclusively women – were standing nearby or sitting on benches, and talking to each other on phones.’ (320) Wouldn’t those ‘parents – exclusively women’ be ‘mothers’? Or ‘women’?
‘Jens hugged him as heartily and roughly as always. His rough beard scratched Eric’s cheek.’ (40). Most editors would have marked ‘roughly’ and ‘rough’ for a rethink. ‘Eric returned to his car, which had received a parking ticket. He left it where it was and backed out of the parking area.’ (162) Clunky and uninspired.
Occasionally, a gem of a sentence emerges. For example, ‘She was Jewish, with all of Europe running through her veins’ (25-26), imparts the information in a less pedestrian form than elsewhere throughout the book. And this: ‘But when he woke, reality waited restlessly for him with sharp claws and a wide sneer.’ (129). For the most part, though, I found the prose style to be a little dull.
Still, you don’t need Literary style to make a Hollywood movie and that’s where Mona is headed. There’s quite a buzz around Swedish story-telling lately but let’s be clear; Sehlberg is no Stieg Larsson and Mona is a far cry from The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Nevertheless, Mona is a page-turner and it comes as no surprise to me that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, ‘New Regency’ has picked up the movie rights. I can definitely imagine a good Hollywood thriller in a Matt Damon or Mark Wahlberg kind of way and, if Angelina Jolie would take on a less starring role, she’d glint like sharpened steel as the ruthless Rachel Papo. This is likely to be one of those rare cross-overs where the movie will upstage the book.
Throughout the story, I often found myself thinking back to the prologue, in which a little girl in Lebanon brings a tin can home to her mother and grandmother. She’d found the can while chasing a striped cat through a muddy field. In that creative way of children, she has imagined the cat as a tiger and the can as its cub.
[she] saw her mother’s tears. She looked nervously at her grandmother, and heard her prayers. Then she extended the hand with the tiger cub. That wasn’t a tiger cub. That was a can. That wasn’t a can. That was a grenade from an Israeli cluster bomb. (2)
Such imagery is so close to the reality for many families in the Middle East today, on both sides of the fence. It is gut-wrenching.
Thanks to ANZ Litlovers (cross-posted) for the reviewing opportunity.
Sehlberg, Dan. Mona. Lind & Co, Sweden, 2013
Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, Scribe Publications, Brunswick, Aust. 2014.
ISBN 9 781922 070975