Literary ingenuity and thriller-like suspense in a story about a bad girl who plans her own funeral
Gideon Samson’s Black Swan punctures the myth of the innocent child. He shows that children can be ruthless: they don’t stop to think about how serious their actions are or about the consequences for other people. For manipulative Rifka, life is a game and she is the winner. Samson has written a haunting, stunning, taboo-breaking literary novel about a darkly fascinating character.
The central element in Black Swan is Rifka’s ultimate act of manipulation: she wants to be present at her own funeral. She keeps imagining how wonderful it would be to see all those people mourning for her. So she plans to fake her own kidnapping and murder, so that her parents will organize a funeral for her, which she can then attend, incognito.
Such a daring subject could make this a rather daunting book for children, were it not for the fact that Samson has created a story that is very readable and as gripping as a thriller. He relates the events from different perspectives: the first part is told from the point of view of Duveke, Rifka’s friend and reluctant accomplice, who secretly decides to omit a crucial step in Rifka’s plan. Then it’s the turn of Duveke’s unsuspecting brother Olivier, who provides his account of the days leading up to Rifka’s funeral – because, yes, there is a funeral. This comes as a surprise. Wasn’t Duveke going to foil Rifka’s plan? And can a child be declared dead so soon after they’ve been reported missing?
In the final section, Black Swan takes on elements of a tragedy: pieces of the puzzle fall into place and it becomes clear that this story really did come down to a matter of life and death. We discover what happened after Rifka’s disappearance, as seen from her point of view. Gradually, in spite of everything, the reader even begins to develop sympathy for the bad girl.
The plot is brilliantly worked out by Samson, who writes in a clipped, staccato and apparently simple style. But that simplicity is intentional: at the conclusion he neatly twists our expectations. This construction is awe-inspiring, but the cleverest thing about this story is the way Samson plays with our ideas about guilt and innocence. Who was really the victim and who was the villain?