A Novel


In this spellbinding and poignant historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil of the 1960s and the dawning of a new modern era.

1965: As the United States becomes further embroiled in the Vietnam War, the ripple effects are far-reaching—even to the other side of the world. In Australia, a national military draft has been announced and Pearl Keogh, a headstrong and ambitious newspaper reporter, has put her job in jeopardy to become involved in the anti-war movement. Desperate to locate her two runaway brothers before they’re called to serve, Pearl is also hiding a secret shame—the guilt she feels for not doing more for her younger siblings after their mother’s untimely death.

Newly arrived from Sweden, Axel Lindquist is set to work as a sculptor on the besieged Sydney Opera House. After a childhood in Europe, where the shadow of WWII loomed large, he seeks to reinvent himself in this utterly foreign landscape, and finds artistic inspiration—and salvation—in the monument to modernity that is being constructed on Sydney’s Harbor. But as the nation hurtles towards yet another war, Jørn Utzon, the Opera House’s controversial architect, is nowhere to be found—and Axel fears that the past he has tried to outrun may be catching up with him.

As the seas of change swirl around them, Pearl and Axel’s lives orbit each other and collide in this sweeping novel of art and culture, love and destiny.
  • Atria Books | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501193132 | 
  • October 2018
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Shell includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The title, Shell, most obviously refers to the shell-like shapes of the Sydney Opera House, but we see the image and concept of shells appear with many meanings and contexts at various points in the book. Look at some examples of moments when Axel or Pearl mention shells. What are the main themes that shells evoke for these characters? Do any of these interpretations of shells affect how you see the Sydney Opera House?

2. Apart from shells, there are other visual motifs that run throughout the novel, such as water and birds. Which other repeated images most struck you as you were reading? What were the thematic effects of these motifs—that is, how did they convey certain themes or affect the tone of the narrative?

3. Axel describes how the climate of Sweden “made him different” (p. 15). Do you agree that where you grow up—the weather, natural landscape, architecture—shapes who you are as a person? If so, what are some examples you see in your own life?

4. How do Axel and Pearl’s story lines parallel each see more

About the Author

Kristina Olsson
Photograph by Amelia J. Dowd

Kristina Olsson

Kristina Olsson is a journalist and the award-winning author of the novels Shell, In One Skin, and The China Garden, and two works of nonfiction, Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir and Kilroy was Here. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.