I picked up this novel for the same reason I suspect many other readers did.
I read the author biography, and was curious to see how the author would handle a thriller set in a modern-day cult.
The novel’s author, Mariette Lindstein, is a Swede who spent twenty years in Scientology, including years at their California headquarters. She writes about her difficulty in leaving that group, and her slow transition into life outside a controlling atmosphere. According to her author notes, drafting this story and bringing her own experiences into this fictionalized account, helped her with this adjustment.
Lindstein’s novel follows a young woman, Sofia, as she is drawn into a modern-day cult that operates from a remote Swedish island.
The cult is seemingly based on ‘healthy living’ and attracts potential members by inviting them to their impressive location on a remote island.
There, the guests eat wholesome food, get lots of sleep, walk leisurely around the island, and are subjected to new-agey personality tests that are supposed to assist in better understanding oneself. The group is headed by the mysterious Franz Oswald.
Alarm bells were going off as we followed Sofia on her return home after her initial visit to the island. Lo and behold, she decides to return to Fog Island as a staff member.
This is where the story truly grows interesting, as we watch her initially trying to convince herself that she is somehow an independent professional there to carrying out a job. Simultaneously, she accepts physical and mental abuse aimed at her and her fellow members and accepts complete lack of freedom as an electric gate is erected around the property “for the community’s safety”.
We follow along as the situation deteriorates on the island and Oswald’s cruelty intensifies. I am not sure all the individual elements worked – the Sofia/bad break-up set up wasn’t strong enough to explain why she joined the cult, nor was the chance to create the center’s library enough of a draw to make me understand her choice.
What was fascinating were the day-to-day interactions, the punishments imposed on the community by its leader, the absolute authority Oswald maintained over his community, the mindless work and sleep deprivation he imposed, and why everyone would put up with it – and him – in the first place.
It’s certainly a page turner, although I was less interested in the reveals about Oswald’s character and more focused on Sofia finding her way back to real life. All in all, an enjoyable and quick read.