Violence is not always brusque or obvious. It hides, quiet, creeping, historically handed down by wordless others amongst the thin layers of mountain air that hold the forgotten Olympic Hotel together. Hidden in the suffocating terrain of Strega, a remote Alpine town of perpetual emptiness and repetition, nine girls venture into the Olympic’s shadowed depths for the rare chance of employment, and eventually a better life. What they find instead is dark and unavoidable: a spell handed down for centuries, something that cannot always be shaken off, that follows you through the halls and into your bed at night.
Spoken from the perspective of Rafa – a young woman used to small-town, sunshine life with her family and pre-set future expectations – Strega is a modern, grisly, Gothic foray into the mythology of violence that permeates society’s inner core. Leaving her predictably safe surroundings behind, Rafa takes a supposedly mundane seasonal job at a once-glorious Alpine hotel as part of a pre-selected group of young women set to work across the holiday period.
Punctuated by the smell of herbs, whispers, strange matron-like overseers, starched uniforms, dry knuckles, ever-empty rooms, and constantly brewing pots of coffee with cream, Rafa soon begins to realise that the Olympic is not as it seems, and neither are the people who (eventually) begin to pass through it.
Exploring themes of betrayal, violence against women, and authority, Strega tells a story of sad endurance against the harshness of society’s inner framework; what women are told to inherit; how we see ourselves as people; self-will; and the relationships we’re expected to have with others. Crafted in a jarring, incantation-like prose, Holm’s work is nothing short of a spell itself. It sticks like a charm after reading, bringing with it a deliciously dark residue that begs questions of, ‘Where is she?’ and ‘Why?’
Dream-like and littered with superb female embodiments and perspectives, Strega manages to combine mystery, ghost tales, witchcraft, and psychological horror together with ease and flair, bringing to the table a short yet impossibly heady novel that pulls out the worst, best, and strangest parts of human behaviour in equal measure.
Strega is out now, published by Lolli Editions, translated into English by Saskia Vogel. Buy here.