Frozen Music – Marika Cobbold


I would never have picked up this book if it hadn’t been for the font on the spine. As it was, I ended up putting it back on the shelf, going home, then thinking about it all night before rushing back to buy it the next day. I don’t know why it hooked me, but it did. Before I’d even started reading it I was drawn in, and that endured right through to the last page. Maybe she passed me by, since this book was released in 2000 when I was only twelve, but I’ve never come across Marika Cobbold’s work before. I suppose it just shows how much of a difference the right font can make. A quite unremarkable cover with a quirky typeface housed one of the best books I’ve ever read, and certainly the best I’ve ever bought on a whim from a charity shop for £ 1.50.

An angry English girl and a quiet Swedish boy grow up countries apart, linked only by a tenuous family connection. The boy, Linus, a gentle dreamer with a ridiculous laugh, lives with his father, step-mother, and the mystery of his real mother’s untimely death. The girl, Esther, grows rebelliously away from the vacant, tidy, pre-feminist ideas of her mother and into an angry, confused journalist. In the strict world of rules and boundaries that she sets for herself, everything has a place, everything works and everything has a right and a wrong answer. But when the real world intrudes, the idea that the right thing to do is not necessarily the right thing to do leaves her confused and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Linus matures into a successful, daydreaming architect, constantly trying to be interested in the world around him but longing for the freedom to design something beautiful. His chance comes when an English entrepreneur plans to build an opera house for the culture-deprived nation, with expense no object.

The site of the planned development is already occupied by an elderly brother and sister, who enlist Esther’s help with in halting their eviction from their run-down old farmhouse. She enters wholeheartedly into their cause, still smarting from her breakdown and confident that this is undoubtedly the morally right thing to do. Yet when she meets Linus and her feelings for him begin to grow, the line between right and wrong blurs even more, and it becomes harder than ever to find what the ‘right thing to do’ really is.

To be honest, I expected less of a book described as “Pride and Prejudice, Scandinavian style”. I thought it would be one of those Austen knock-offs, full of cheap clichés and 2-D copied characters. I bought what I thought would be a schmaltzy romance and ended up with an in-depth, psychological drama which questioned the meaning of love and the complex issues of right and wrong in the modern society.

The development of the characters early on through in-depth descriptions of their childhoods was well crafted in that it left me feeling somewhat apart from the insular Linus, yet in no doubt of every feeling of the angry and emotional Esther. As the book continued, the action moved to Sweden where a whole host of believable and interesting relations appear, adding stability and a sense of place to the story. Really, though, most of the story takes place in Esther’s head, and the reader follows her through her mental breakdown and her attempts to rehabilitate her life. If you have ever felt lost and confused by the world around you, this is the book for you.

Frozen Music is more than a romance, it’s an examination of the unstable mind of a confused young woman longing for predictability and control over the world around her. It is a rewarding and thought-provoking read, and one I have probably already recommended to everyone I’ve ever met. Currently out of print, Frozen Music is available from some charity shops as well as on the internet. Available second hand for as little as a penny, not including postage of course, there’s no excuse not to give this a go. If you haven’t got a penny, I’ll lend you my copy.