Henning Mankell passed away in October 2015, his international renown founded primarily on his Wallander crime novels, although he was also responsible for many other novels, screenplays and plays, as well as doing what he could to further the causes he believed in. He started writing his last book, Quicksand, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and what we have here are 67 ruminations on things he was thinking about as he endured chemotherapy and the long nights in which he wondered if his time was almost up.
Subtitled, ‘What it means to be a human being’, Quicksand finds Mankell considering the fate of nuclear waste, the origin of cave paintings, the relationship of the present and the individual to the past and the future and the legitimacy of both fear and relief. Along the way, we are also treated to various recollections of moments Mankell regards as being key to his life. So we flit, from the spring of 2013 as he writes his will to Zambia in the 1980s, Stockholm in the 1960s, Mantova in Italy “many years ago”, Crete in 1978, Yugoslavia in the 80s again, Maputo in 2013. We ravel hundreds of thousands of years into the past and into the future, traverse new ice ages, squat in the presence of the first painter. Mankell considers photographs and works of art that had meaning for him, shares sad and intimate stories of lives that touched his in some way.
Undoubtedly Quicksand is of interest to Mankell fans – short of having known the man, this is probably the best way to know the man now (and he comes across as someone who thought about his life and the difference he could make). Affording it the respect of reading it slowly feels like a service the book warrants. Unlike, say, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, which felt like a book written by someone who had largely made his peace with his fate and had something further to say, Quicksand is a glimpse into the mind of a man still wrestling with his fate – and it’s sad, knowing something that Mankell possibly didn’t know as he wrote.
Any Cop?: It can’t help but be a gloomy read, obviously, but for all that there is wisdom here and solace and warmth and intelligence.