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Mona by Dan Sehlberg

MonaA review by Nalini Haynes
  • Format: 448pp in paperback
  • ISBN (13): 9781922070975
  • Publisher: Scribe

Mona is a little girl playing in her yard in Lebanon while her mother and grandmother prepare for a family celebration. She pretends a can is a cat; a harmless game until the family realises her ‘can/cat’ is a live grenade.

Eric Soderqvist is an IT professor developing prototype technology to allow people to surf a virtual internet. His relationship with his wife, Hannah, is ambivalent, seesawing from violent, coercive sex to intimate moments. Eric wonders if he’d prefer to live alone to dedicate his life more fully to his research and yet he fears losing Hannah.

Then Hannah falls into a coma.

Eric realises Hannah’s coma was caused by his prototype technology bringing Hannah into contact with a computer virus. Propelled by guilt, Eric abruptly flees Hannah’s hospital bed to seek an anti-virus to cure her. Thus begins Eric’s quest to find Samir, who created the computer virus, while the Western world hunts Samir and his terrorist group.

Samir’s Mona virus becomes the worst internet virus ever, causing untold damage to monetary systems and Israel while gradually spreading to other, unforseen computer systems. Hezbolla, the Lebanese terrorist group Samir joined, keep Samir very close while preparing devastating attacks on Israel.

Although Mona definitively falls into ‘thriller’ and ‘science fiction’ categories, it is also consciously Literary. Sehlberg runs his story in parallel with Nobel Laureate Le Clezio’s Wandering Star, going so far as to mention Wandering Star in Mona for the less Literary of Mona’s readers. Additionally, Sehlberg appears influenced by Game of Thrones with his multitude of point of view characters and an apparently intentional misquote.

Mona is written in third person although from the perspective of numerous characters. To a point this is necessary to convey Eric’s quest, Samir’s motives and dilemma, the workings of Hezbolla and the hunt for the terrorists. Sehlberg goes somewhat overboard, however: early on the point of view switches in the middle of a meeting between characters we’ve barely met. This was confusing; I had to read the account of the meeting twice. Later a point of view character is introduced for one or two scenes.

Every character should be the centre of his or her own world, feeling justified in his or her actions; some of Mona’s characters seemed intent on destruction with insufficient self-righteous motivation. Only Eric and Samir seemed to have real depth in this story, most other characters were two-dimensional.

Mona is very ‘straight white guy’ with Eric’s point of view overriding Hannah’s; hotel staff and Eric’s judgement of a transvestite; a woman agent, motivated by childhood abuse of herself and her sister, currently used by the Mossad although diagnosed as mentally unstable. I am concerned about the use of the term “autistic state”, applied to someone apparently suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Hollywood clones come and go at a rate of knots so Mona is a refreshing change, focusing on Sweden and the Middle East rather than the United States. Very different from Transcendence, Mona focuses on personal relationships and terrorism. Mona is recommended as a thriller, science fiction and Literary novel; this is a good debut novel from Dan Sehlberg.

Rating:   3 ½ stars

Book Design

I often don’t comment on book design but Mona’s design is impressive in this era of stock images slapped onto book covers.

Dressed to evoke images of computer chips, Mona’s cover is black, white, green and silver. The background of green lettering doesn’t just evoke the Matrix’s sliding 1’s and 0’s; by using specific letters, this imagery evokes human DNA inside a computer environment. The dynamic backdrop for the title references both silicone chip and wiring. Mona will visually leap off the shelf, standing out among the plethora of books in a store, for any computer geek.

This year text size and quality seems to be deteriorating fast for most novels but Mona’s text size is larger than what seems to have become the norm with better quality type to boot. If you’ve been put off paper novels because small type is a strain at the end of the day, Mona could be the way back.

This excellent book design speaks of Scribe’s confidence in their product; their motivation to make reading a pleasurable experience and their understanding of books as artefacts.

Nalini
Nalinihttps://www.darkmatterzine.com
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.

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