REVIEW: THE HUM OF CONCRETE BY ANNA SOLDING

THE HUM OF CONCRETE

Author: Anna Solding 
MidnightSun Publishing RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

hum-concreteAnna Solding’s 2012 novel The Hum of Concrete was shortlisted for the 2013 Most Underrated Book Award (MUBA) by The Small Press Network (SPN). The award highlights books released by small and independent Australian publishers which have slipped under the mainstream’s radar. Although The Hum of Concrete didn’t win, it did aid in conversation about why some books slip through and others get all the hype. Solding raised some interesting points in her conversation with Write Note Reviews, so I decided to add The Hum of Concrete to my review list. I was rewarded with an evocative book that captures the ordinary in an atmospheric and assured manner.

Set in Malmö, Sweden, a place I’ve only visited in Scandinavian crime fiction, The Hum of Concrete is the story of a city and its people – five people in particular. Here’s a snippet from the blurb:

Consumed with despair, Palestinian Nassrin walks into the ocean with her baby in her arms. Susanna dares to take a stand against gay-bashers. By starlight, Bodil sees the city from the roof of a church. Estella meets her tough little half-brother for the first time. Lonely Rhyme seeks shelter in a tree full of fairy lights. And all round them, the hum of concrete.

The lives of these diverse city dwellers intersect, sometimes in a fleeting manner and other times leaving lasting impact, within a narrative that switches point of view often and moves over a number of years (though the time period is never clearly defined). The characters are children, adults, people from different ethnic backgrounds, people of non-specific gender, parents, lovers and fighters; they’re ordinary people and their stories, fears, anxieties and triumphs are of the everyday variety, yet each one is is treated with respect, their uniqueness in an ordinary life acknowledged. The snapshot-style narratives mean readers don’t get to know any of the characters deeply, and yet, those glimpses are surprisingly intimate. It’s an interesting writing technique – a bold one almost – but it works.

Where the characters are captured in fleeting portraits, the city of Malmö is vividly drawn through a series of vignettes, each one highlighting the experience of the city through a different sense. Readers hear, see, taste, smell and feel Malmö as Swedish-expat Solding draws on her memories of a fluid and multi-cultural community. It’s Sweden’s third-largest city yet Solding’s evocative prose makes it feel far more intimate; the present tense puts it firmly in the now … you are there, walking along, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting. Here are some gems:

Slogans echo between the buildings … (p59)

You stop to buy some pistachio nuts. To devour later when night has finally secured its grip on the city and its drunken debaucherous people. (p107)

The smell of warm bodies mixes with that of overripe strawberries and fresh dill. (p164)

Anna Solding mixes intelligence and heart into The Hum of Concrete; it’s a surprising read that uses interesting and original literary techniques, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a book for those who like a little more literary in their fiction.

Available from good bookstores and MidnightSun Publishing. My copy was courtesy of MidnightSun Publishing.

Bookish treat: I have a craving for Swedish meatballs. And the crunchy Daim chocolate from IKEA.

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