Book Review: The Bleeding

There are two sides to every realm… It all depends on the position from which you choose to view the world.

Johana Gustawsson ~ The Bleeding

Translated by David Warriner.

Synopsis

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

This book may be absolutely stunning on the outside, but within its pages lurks a dark and dangerous story that combines betrayal, fear and anger to reach a horrifying conclusion.

Historical fiction and crime are two of the genres I read the most and The Bleeding combines both of these into a French Noir book that is wholly satisfying and disturbing.

Johana Gustawsson weaves three stories together that span just over a century. We know the women are somehow connected, but clues are revealed slowly and carefully to ensure we do not guess too soon. Each woman has her own issues and fears and is close to breaking point, spiralling out of control. Lucienne has lost her children in a fire, Lina is being bullied and Maxine is recently widowed.

Yet below the surface of these ordinary women, something is simmering. Rumours of devil worship, witchcraft and murder abound, but Gustawsson writes these women with sympathy and understanding. We are drawn towards them, sympathise with them, relate to them. In a similar situation, none of us knows what she would do, which makes the book all the more terrifying. Whatever your beliefs or ideas of the occult, this book will turn them upside-down and ensnare you in its telling until you want to dance naked around a fire and curse your enemies.

There are many twists and turns within the book and it is so intricately layered, that it almost begs a reread to unravel the different elements of the plot and see where the clues are. Although I managed to solve the final, macabre mystery, it was barely moments before the conclusion was revealed. A very clever book, rich and vivid in its description, Gustawsson provides excellent juxtaposition between the beautiful landscapes and the ugly nature of death.

Deeply disturbing, well-written and hard to forget, The Bleeding is a sensational story.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my finished copy. Opinions my own.

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