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Category Archive for 'Norway'

In this second of his “new style” of novels, Norwegian author Jo Nesbo creates a character frantic to escape the Oslo hitmen sent to kill him. Traveling eighteen hundred kilometers in seventy hours of non-stop racing, the character, Ulf, finally reaches the Finnmark Plateau to the far north of Norway. Located well above the Arctic Circle, near the North Pole, Finnmark appears to be the perfect hiding place for Ulf, also known as Jon Hansen. Its enormous land area – larger than the country of Denmark – has only seventy-five-thousand residents – a good place to hide – and with three months of midnight sun, it is not a place where an enemy can sneak up easily in the dark. Like Olav in Blood on Snow, Nesbo’s previous novel, Ulf has become involved with the organized crime ring run by “the Fisherman” in Oslo, and also like Olav, he appears to have a good heart beneath his hard exterior – a young man sucked into being “fixer” for a big-time criminal by circumstances over which he believes he had no control. His fifteen years of schooling, including two years of university, never prepared him for the kind of absolute choice he had to make when, in desperate need of a large sum of money, he connected with the Fisherman as the only way to save a life. Now, on the run because he did not fulfill a contract killing, Ulf has arrived in tiny Kasund, near Kautokeino, home to fishermen, reindeer herders, and the aboriginal Sami culture.

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Swedish author Per Petterson dedicates the ten short stories of Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes (1987) to his own father in his first published book, creating a lovely and loving portrait of a father, his young son, and a few other members of their family as they go about their everyday lives in 1960s Sweden. Main character Arvid, who will go on to star in some later books by Petterson, is six years old in the collection’s opening story, growing to the age of ten by its conclusion, a hypersensitive child who notices and cares about the family around him even as he is also aware of how much he depends on them. Arvid’s unique point of view, his life, and his reactions to events in these stories, though perhaps more emotional than what most other children his age experience, are nevertheless so plausible and filled with heart that one cannot help believing that many of the happenings here were real and that the stories are somewhat autobiographical. Seeming to breathe on their own, they need very little exposition to work their magic and draw in the reader, to whom they feel somehow familiar, no matter how the time, setting, and action may differ from our own. A very small book, with very short stories, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes carries a disproportionately large impact, a debut which clearly presages the enormous success this author would eventually have in the literary world.

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Petterson begins the novel in 2006, as Jim, a man in his fifties who never knew his father, almost runs over an old man while driving through a snowstorm in the early morning hours. He wonders if the old man, who is uninjured, could have been his unknown father, a motif which echoes throughout. Jim is on his way to the suspension bridge that connects the island of Ulvoya to the mainland, a few miles south of Oslo. He fishes from the bridge a few times a week in the semi-darkness just before dawn, a peaceful activity for a man who must remember to “take his pills.” He resents the “classy cars” which have just begun crossing the bridge as dawn breaks, and he is shocked when someone in a new Mercedes stops and says, unexpectedly, “It’s Jim, isn’t it?” The speaker is Tommy Berggren, his dearest friend from childhood, with whom he has had virtually no contact for almost thirty years, a man who now looks “like Jon Voight in Enemy of the State,” but who miraculously recognizes him from the crowd. I Refuse is, I believe, Norwegian author Per Petterson’s most overwhelming and powerful novel yet, a novel which, even now, three days after I finished reading it, still has hold of my heart and still echoes in my memories throughout the day. I have read and reread passages just to be sure that they really do happen the way I thought they did, hoping that if I could just reread them one more time with a new vision that maybe I could keep the sad inevitabilities from happening in quite the same way, this time around. I don’t think I am the only one who will feel this way

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Thirteen is certainly not an unlucky number for Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, whose thirteenth crime novel has just been released in English. Winner of countless prizes, including the prestigious Glass Key Award, the Edgar Award, and Norway’s Peer Gynt Prize, Nesbo has written ten novels in the Harry Hole series, and three stand-alone novels, Headhunters, The Son, and now Blood on Snow, a novel quite different in length, focus, and tone from all that have gone before. Readers who admire Nesbo for his ability to write in a variety of thriller subgenres from horror (The Snowman) to an historical about Norway’s Nazi past and neo-Nazi present (The Redbreast) – have come to expect complex, multi-layered plots punctuated by action scenes of almost unimaginable violence. This short novel about a hired killer introduces a newer style, however – leaner, cleaner, and more introspective, with wonderful ironic humor new for readers of Nesbo. Though the novel certainly has its excitements, much of the novel capitalizes on the ironies which exist between the thinking of Olav Johansen, the young, dyslexic main character, and his actions as a “fixer.” It is through Olav’s running commentary that the reader understands the narrative, and one cannot miss the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the author who is controlling this character.

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Norwegian author Linn Ullmann’s novel The Cold Song defies easy categories. It is not really a mystery, since the opening line announces that “Milla, or what was left of her, was found by Simen and two of his friends when they were digging for buried treasure in the woods.” We also know from the first page that a “boy known as K.B.” was later arrested and charged with her death. Still, this dark novel, filled with foreboding throughout, creates an atmosphere which mystery lovers will find intriguing, if not gripping, as the lives of the main characters move back and forth in time, creating their own suspense as each character reveals personal secrets and emotional limitations. Siri Brodal, the owner of two well-established restaurants; her husband, Jon, the author of two best-selling novels; their strange, sometimes irrational eleven-year-old daughter Alma; and Siri’s mother Jenny, a feisty, no-nonsense woman who is about to have her seventy-fifth birthday, form the crux of the novel and control the emotional climate throughout. Haunting all the action, however, is nineteen-year-old Milla, who disappeared two years ago, shortly after she was hired to care for Alma and her much younger sister Liv during the family’s summer vacation on the Norwegian coast. The discovery of Milla’s mangled remains, as the novel opens two years after her disappearance, preoccupies all the characters and looms over the action throughout.

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