When I Wake Up
Date Published05 April 2018
Price£ 7.99

When I Wake Up

by Jessica Jarlvi

There are only two people who know why Anna was left for dead. And one of them is in a coma.


Anna is devoted mother, a good wife, and an adored teacher in a small Swedish town. There is no reason for the brutal attack, which leaves her in a coma. Erik, her husband, is by her side. But his mind is elsewhere, worrying about their twin boys, and who committed such an atrocity on his wife.

The police keep him at arm’s length, but Erik cannot rest until he has answers. In desperation, he starts his own investigation. He might not be the perfect husband. He might have committed the odd indiscretion, but Erik loves Anna. Then he discovers his good wife has a secret life, one which would give several people a motive for wanting her dead. The truth will come out. But only if Anna awakens. And only if she remembers.

This is a story written from several points of view that flips between the past and present. Erik and Anna receive the most page space, but the cast of characters grows as Anna’s backstory unravels. The plot revolves around desire and infidelity, and is driven forwards by suspicion and jealousy; a heady, if commonplace, cocktail.

The characters are in places stereotypical: the arrogant, narcissistic artist, the dull teacher (Anna’s colleague), the husband with a chip on his shoulder, the tarty, jealous bit on the side, the librarian who personifies the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’

Equally so, there are moments when the characters’ behaviour is unconvincing. Call me cynical, but I am sure even most adolescents question the old chestnut, love at first sight. Interest, yes. Attraction, certainly. Empathy, without doubt. But I can’t believe there are many real people out there who would throw their entire lives out of the window after two brief sexual encounters, calling it love.

As for Anna in her role as teacher, it’s hard not to get irritated by her. She may have won Teacher of the Year award, and everyone might say she is strict, but that is as believable as Trump’s denial of climate change. She lets a 17-year old boy run rings around her, and hasn’t got the guts to talk to her colleagues about it.

I found the sex-scenes believable and well-handled. The behaviour, introspections and writing style is distinctive, and dependent on the point of view. However, occasionally, the sex is gratuitous, and it feels like the author has swallowed a touch of the Fifty Shades instant-success formula. There is certainly no lack of sex in this book.

There are holes and loose ends, and the odd scene that bears little relevance to the advancement of the plot. The end comes across as if the author has given motivation and opportunity to all the suspects then pulled the culprit’s name out of a hat. Worse still, during that critical revelation, the reader is subjected to a sprinkle of half-baked belated pieces of backstory that may or may not be relevant to the culprit’s past behaviour and current psyche. The ending is hurried, and the epilogue is an overdose of candyfloss.

That said, When I Wake Up is a thoroughly enjoyable debut, a fast and easy read. The characters are beautifully flawed and the plot is a sharp reminder that even in Scandinavia, there are villages that suffer with the vicious and corrupt undertones of the ‘Midsomer mentality!’

Reviewed 31 March 2018 by Kati Barr-Taylor

Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her ‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by translating, writing, editing and reading.