While I haven’t formally run my Nordic reading month this year keeping it casual, I offer many thanks to those blog friends who have still included it in their own reading plans (Chris reviewed The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Lizzy reviewed Hunter in Huskvarna and other stories by Sara Stridsberg. Do let me know if you’ve added some Nordic reading to your January too …
Now, after the past week’s Arctic chill, I thought I’d share some similarly cold Nordic novels I’ve read over the years, picked from my Nordic FINDS (Fin, Ice, Den, Nor, Swe) page. Links in the titles will take you through to the full reviews.
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg
The Danish mystery that really got the Nordic noir scene going, a real ‘gateway’ book for me, and many others. Smilla is a unique protagonist, mid-30s, half Greenlander, half Danish, she has a fantastic philosophical outlook on life populated by many bons mots (see my full review for a selection). When the son of a neighbour falls to his death from a snowy roof, Smilla is compelled to investigate, believing he was running away from something or someone. She uncovers that the boy’s father died in odd circumstances in Greenland, and thus she is drawn back to her home country into a dangerous adventure.
Re-reading this novel for the first reading month a couple of years ago was a true delight. It will remain one of my favourite novels, and does feature in my Desert Island Library chest.
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
I read this last year, one of Jansson’s late adult novels, first published in 1968, and was overcome by its hidden depths and her ability to leave so much unsaid but there for the reader to intuit for themselves.
The story of a brother and sister, Katri and Mats, a self-contained pair, Katri is blunt and a good accountant, younger brother Mats is considered neuro-diverse, but works, methodically and slowly in the boat yard. When Katri sees an opportunity to advance their precarious finances by befriending an ageing author, Anna, who lives alone in a big house outside the village, the novel takes on a psychological edge as the two women play off each other. It is truly fine stuff!
Winterkill (Dark Iceland 6) by Ragnar Jónasson
It is unusual for me to jump into reading a series past the first couple of titles, but Winterkill is the final book in this particular set, and I enjoyed it enough to want to read the previous books (still to happen). The ‘Dark Iceland’ books are set in and around the town of Siglufjörður, (pronounced ‘Siglue-fyoer-thur), Iceland’s northernmost town, now emerging as a skiing resort. Ari Thór Arason is the town’s new police inspector. Tómas, his old boss, moved to Reykjavik, leaving Ari Thór to take on his own apprentice Ögmundur in turn as Tómas did for him. With a suspicious death to investigate doggedly, you can see Ari Thór growing into his new inspector role. Jónasson has created a refreshingly normal police officer, with no vices, other than he can’t ski.
The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
Vesaas is considered one of Norway’s greatest authors, and this mid-60s novella is simply superb.
The story of Siss and Unn, the latter being the new girl at school and a bit of an outsider whom popular Siss befriends. At Unn’s house, she keeps on saying she has a secret, but won’t tell Siss, making her feel awkward. The next day Unn decides she can’t go to school and see Siss, instead she will visit the frozen waterfall known as the ice palace, never to be seen again. The loss of her new friend affects Siss profoundly, and it will take time for her to rejoin her other friends.
Vesaas’ writing about the snow and ice is absolutely beautiful and so evocative, you really can picture the waterfall. His writing is spare but profound too with no word wasted. If you haven’t joined the gang who love this novel, what are you waiting for?
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
From the sublime to the horrific! This is the fifth of Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, so his Oslo based, FBI-trained detective is well-established. When a boy finds his mother missing, it’s not long before the team find out that there have been more missing women over the years, and then another woman goes missing. It all gets very complicated very quickly, and right from the off, we are fed a series of red herrings before it finally becomes clear who the killer is, and there are snowmen. Complex it may be, but it was easy to get hooked and we all (this was a book group pick) sped through the book’s 550 pages. It was pretty gory though, and strangely – or maybe not given my capacity to read gore – I’ve not returned to Harry Hole since, although if I did, it would be via the first novel, for there is a links back to previous books which you miss leaping in midway through this series.
I realise I’ve not managed to include a Swedish wintery novel above. Despite many snowy covers to those I’ve read, winter ice and snow just didn’t play a big part in the narrative. Do suggest some for me…