Happy publication day to Andrew MacDonald with his debut novel ‘When We Were Vikings’!
With a high-functioning young woman born on the fetal alcohol spectrum, planning to live life as if she’s a legendary Viking, I had an inkling this book would feel fresh and different. By the end it felt like ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ meets ‘Breaking Bad’, which you have to admit is kind of fascinating.
Zelda is learning how to gain independence, navigate romance and protect her tribe (which is particularly tricky as her older brother is getting increasingly involved in criminal dealings to keep them afloat). MacDonald presents a convincing sibling relationship and other characters feel well-drawn too: AK47, her brother’s on-off girlfriend who has taken Zelda lovingly under her wing; Dr Laird, in whom Zelda can confide; some of the people at the community center she attends, and Pearl, the mother of Zelda’s boyfriend, who is both delighted – if a little apprehensive – that her son has found young love.
When Zelda and her boyfriend Marxy, a developmentally disabled young man who attends the same Community Center, decide to become sexually active, the scene is written with an entertaining mix of humour and sensitivity. It’s one of the stand-out moments in the book and is likely to open up conversations about cognitively disabled adults gaining sexual intimacy – something that has sparked debate & concerns in many families over the years.
Don’t be fooled by the cover, this is an adult book. There are certainly dark and menacing moments for Zelda, which she fits into the narrative of a viking legend. This was quite different to other novels I’ve read. One to look out for at the end of January!