Malma Station by Alex Schulman (transl. Rachel Willson-Broyles) ‘You are never alone’

Cover image for Malma Station by Alex SchulmanThe blurb for Alex Schulman’s Malma Station was so impenetrable I’d have passed it by had I not been so impressed by The Survivors back in 2021. Schulman’s new novel explores similar themes following three journeys to the eponymous station deep in the Swedish countryside, separated by several decades.

Often, when her parents fought, she would imagine that what she heard out there were cries for help from some people who were trapped, a man and a woman who were locked up somewhere but desperately wanted to get out.

Harriet and her father are planning to bury the remains of the pet rabbit bought to console her when her mother left taking Harriet’s sister, Amelia, with her. Her father has chosen Malma Station for a reason which won’t be revealed to Harriet until they arrive. She’s carrying the double burden of a secret told to her by Amelia and the conversation overheard between her parents suggesting that neither of them wants her. Decades later Oskar and his beautiful, mercurial wife are following the same journey after a devastating row, overheard by their daughter, a journey from which Oskar returns but not his wife. Oskar has his own issues to deal with, not least the cruelty of a mother given to hiding herself in supermarkets and watching her small son cry. When he dies, long estranged from his daughter, she finds a set of photographs including one of her mother as a child which leads her to buy a ticket to Malma Station in the hope of solving a mystery. As they travel through the Swedish countryside in the September sun, many years apart, the connections between each of these characters and why they feel impelled to make their journeys becomes clear.

Yana looks at the picture and tries to find her mother in it, but when she looks at it she sees only herself. She was like that, that worried expression in her eyes, always afraid that something was about to fall apart, or that something already had.

Rather like he did in his previous novel, Schulman alternates his timelines unfolding his story from three different perspectives. Each narrative illuminates the other through characters’ memories and reflections, many about childhood incidents and how their effects radiate out into adulthood. Schulman’s overarching theme is childhood trauma, in particular, the way in which parents, even loving and well-meaning ones, can damage their children when caught up in their own affairs: much of the damage done here is the result of overheard adult conversations which leave children bereft of certainty and security, unsure if they’re loved. As quietly gripping as The Survivors, it’s a cleverly constructed novel, sensitive and perceptive, with a less dramatic but equally surprising reveal at the end.

Fleet: London 9780349728018 272 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

10 thoughts on “Malma Station by Alex Schulman (transl. Rachel Willson-Broyles) ‘You are never alone’”

  1. This sounds very powerful. Childhood trauma is so hard to read about and this seems very subtly done.

    Why do they make blurb so impenetrable at times? Its so off-putting, it seems to defeat the purpose. Grumble, grumble…

  2. This sounds like an excellent insightful book. With so many parents caught up in their own issues these days, it does lead to heavy concern for their children & future generations.

    1. Yes, it’s well done. One of the striking aspects is that these are not uncaring parents at all but, as you say, rather caught up in themselves. The harm done carries down through generations.

  3. This sounds so astutely observed… “much of the damage done here is the result of overheard adult conversations which leave children bereft of certainty and security, unsure if they’re loved”… definitely would like to have a look at this!

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