“Like I said, a doctor needs to reach a verdict based on the evidence at the crime scene. But as things stand, everything points toward the same explanation: that your ex-husband, Jack, has killed your daughter.” So begins “The Golden Cage,” similar in name to two early-20th-century paintings: one of a shackled female, another of a high society woman confined to the household, a prisoner of the patriarchy. In the latter, the woman stares longingly at partygoers outside, envious of their freedom. The title of Camilla Lackberg’s latest novel could not be more apt.
When we meet Faye, she seems to have a life others would envy: a happy marriage to Jack Adelheim, millionaire entrepreneur and chief executive of the thriving investment company Compare; an apartment in an affluent part of Stockholm where, when it comes to décor, “absolutely no expense had been spared”; designer clothes; afternoons spent hobnobbing with the elite; a perfect child.
The more discerning eye can see, however, that though Faye lives a lavish lifestyle, her personal freedoms are nil. She’s dependent on Jack, who is handsome and refined, a man from the upper crust who believes image is everything. What he wants from a wife is obedience, reverence, beauty. His wife appears happy to oblige.
Faye, a once prodigious student at the Stockholm School of Economics, where she met Jack and his future business partner, Henrik, is no doormat. In fact, Compare’s immense success is due largely to her own insights into the company, as well as personal sacrifices made so that Jack, and consequently her marriage, could succeed.
But as the company flourished, Faye’s contributions to Compare were quickly omitted: “Her part in the story didn’t fit the media image of the two young, daring, indomitable entrepreneurs, Jack and Henrik.” Instead, Faye was relegated to the role of submissive housewife, her rank in her husband’s life dropping below his career. Jack himself changed, from “the carefree golden boy” whom Faye met in school to a man who is self-absorbed and unkind.
In time, his cruelty becomes unbearable.
As it happens, marrying Jack Adelheim isn’t the first misfortune in Faye’s life. A troubled past, revealed intermittently, tells of Faye’s former self, Matilda, subjected to cruelty at the hands of her father, a volatile man who left his family in ruins. Shortly after graduating from high school, Matilda escaped Fjallbacka, the small fishing village where she was raised, and moved to Stockholm to restart her life. “My new identity as Faye gave me strength,” she says — a declaration proved true when a scorned lover threatens to reveal Matilda’s deepest secrets. Only then does Faye make known what she’s capable of, an act that foreshadows what will happen when Jack’s callous depravity pushes her over the edge. In short, men who hurt, entrap and objectify women and girls will be shown no mercy by Faye Adelheim. Her divorce from Jack and the subsequent creation of a company aptly named Revenge are only the beginnings of a shrewd and unforgiving plan she’s hatched in this novel of female empowerment and triumph over the patriarchy.
It would be remiss not to mention the theme of sisterhood in this smart, unflinching novel, seamlessly translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith. Women in it are rarely pitted against one another, but are instead united by common experience. Their friendships are empowering in and of themselves, and the dispensability of the opposite sex — except perhaps for sexual pleasure — speaks volumes. Honest, solicitous men are few and far between but, when they do appear, Lackberg sings their praises, suggesting a war waged not against all men, but only those who encumber and exploit women.