‘The Golden Cage’ marks a departure for Nordic noir’s Läckberg
After graduating from high school and enduring a family trauma never fully explained, Faye Adelheim “couldn’t get away from that claustrophobic little place fast enough. It suffocated me with its picturesque cobbled streets and inquisitive people who never left me alone.” It’s quite the kiss-off for the bucolic Swedish fishing village where Läckberg set 10 acclaimed books beginning with her 2003 debut, The Ice Princess.
The Golden Cage is a departure for Läckberg in other ways. It takes place amid the glitzy nightclubs, department stores, and cafés of central Stockholm. It’s full of explicit, joyless sex. And it’s not really a murder mystery. The crime is (seemingly) solved in the opening pages, and most of the story is told in flashbacks. Instead, it’s a twisty tale of revenge served ice cold after Faye discovers that her tech billionaire husband is cheating.
She can hardly blame him. Having fled Fjällbacka to enroll in the Stockholm School of Economics, she drops out to waitress while her husband gets the business she helped him brainstorm off the ground. She finds herself overshadowed in life and the press by his male business partner. “Her part in the story didn’t fit the media image of the two young, daring, indomitable entrepreneurs.”
Instead, Faye settles into the role of doting mother and posh lady who lunches. But all those lunches are going to her hips, and her thwarted ambition has started to curdle.
The Golden Cage has less in common with Läckberg’s previous procedurals than camera-ready feminist psychological thrillers like Jane Doe, Gone Girl, Big Little Lies, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and, even further back, Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, which Läckberg has acknowledged as an influence on Faye’s story. As in those books, the narrator is unreliable, and possibly unstable. She’s likable only to the extent that she’s surrounded by people who are even less likable.
It’s a delicate balancing act, and one Läckberg doesn’t quite pull off. By the end, Faye has reinvented herself so many times that it’s hard to know who she really is; there are gaping disconnects between the small-town survivor, the hard-partying student, the clueless trophy wife, and the cunning schemer. Improbably, Faye’s revenge plan depends on her building a booming business from the ground up. While she’s portrayed as the brains behind her husband’s success, neither company is particularly convincing as a real-world enterprise. That’s surprising considering that Läckberg has an economics degree and an entrepreneurial bent: She’s a founder of the female-focused venture capital firm Invest in Her, among other startups.
Läckberg takes the plot one twist too far. The final reveal on the last page is less of an “aha!” than a “huh?” And readers will spot the denouement coming a mile away. But it doesn’t matter: The point of the book isn’t the smug satisfaction of figuring out whodunit. It’s the full-body catharsis of watching a spurned and slightly unhinged wife methodically dismantle her golden cage—and her evil ex’s life—piece by piece.
(Knopf, July 7, 2020)