Strange Narrators, Unusual Minds

This May is my month of eccentric and genre-bending reading. After three mammoth books, I’ve now had the opportunity to read three very unusual ones, in which we are taken into the mind of the narrator so completely, that we are nearly in danger of suffocation. All three books were interesting, although not outstanding, and certainly not the kind I would want to reread.

HarrietKrohnKarin Fossum: The Murder of Harriet Krohn

Karin Fossum and her Inspector Sejer have always been more on the introspective and melancholy side of the Scandinavian crime fiction phenomenon. Her pace is leisurely, she recounts detail after detail, and she always focuses on the psychological drama rather than action scenes. This one is even more extreme than others I’ve read in the series, certainly not your standard crime novel. Sejer barely makes an appearance in the proceedings. It is much more in the vein of ‘Crime and Punishment’, as we see the reasons behind a rather terrible and sad crime, and its consequences on the criminal and his family. Charlo Torp is an average man, flawed, weak, trying to do his best but never quite succeeding. Despite being a loving husband and doting father, he nevertheless gave in to his gambling addiction and now has to resort to a desperate act to pay off his debts and try to regain the affection and respect of his daughter.

Told entirely from Charlo’s point of view, we become privy to all his insecurities, doubts, anxieties, hopes and wishes. We are made to feel sorry for him, but the author never whitewashes his crime, never makes us doubt the criminal justice system. She just shows us that things are never quite black and white, that any one of us can resort to extreme solutions if we are desperate enough.

And who is Harriet Krohn? An inoffensive elderly woman, a victim, a nobody. Fossum is very subtle at showing that victims deserve names and dignity.

FlyTrapFredrik Sjöberg: The Fly Trap

I was sure this one was a novel and kept waiting for something to happen, for a change to occur and the narrator to learn something. But I later found out that it is in fact non-fiction, which would explain why it feels more like a loose collection of thoughts and essays, rather than a coherent whole. It is a meditation on the nature of obsession, on collectors, on explorers, on classification. And just when you think it is all about entomology it suddenly ends with a discussion about art and forgeries. There are some witty and profound observations about life and human nature, and the writing has an almost hypnotic, very restful quality to it. Perhaps a book to dip into while on holiday on an island, whether Scandinavian or not.

affaireEliette Abécassis: Une affaire conjugale 

Hard-hitting story of a divorce, showing just how nasty people can get in the process. Told entirely from the viewpoint of the wronged, downtrodden yet ultimately vengeful wife, you begin to wonder just how reliable a narrator she really is. Depressing but very readable, it does feel at times a bit like a soap opera, and there is an awful lot of Googling and Facebook chat going on, as if to make this timeless tale feel more modern. The main protagonist is a songwriter (lyrics), and she refers to several French chansons to express her pain and anxieties, perhaps to create a little distance. There are also some quite sharp observations about the ‘industry’ of lawyers, helpers, counsellors, financial advisers etc. that has sprung up to fleece people at their most vulnerable moment, i.e. when going through a divorce.  However, there is also genuine poignancy, especially when describing the fears of the negative effects on the children.

Have you come across books recently which were well-written, solid, yet which failed somehow to captivate you entirely? Books which you feel you ought to have liked more, but just didn’t?

13 thoughts on “Strange Narrators, Unusual Minds”

  1. Marina Sofia – I think Karin Fossum is quite good at taking us into the mind of the narrator. She does that in When the Devil Holds the Candle too, among others. Of course, I admit that I’m a fan, but still… And yet, you’re right that there are times when you want to to really become involved in a novel, but it just, well, doesn’t happen.

    1. Have you read others by her? She has a very interesting style, much quieter and more thoughtful than other Scandinavians I’ve read recently.

    1. I can certainly recommend her! Calling Out for You (aka The Indian Bride) was the first one of hers I read and I think it’s still my favourite: simply heart-breaking.

  2. I’m interested in Karin Fossum but I think I’ll start with one of her other books that features Sejer more. It does drive me crazy when I really want to love a book but just can’t get swept up in for some reason. It happens on both ends for me. Sometimes I think that a particular book was good but just never quite got immersed in it other times I’ll get completely caught up in a book and when I come out I can’t exactly figure out why.

  3. ha yes – i started a game of thrones and it’s well written, an interesting story, cool characters – yet it didn’t grab me… dunno why exactly.. the book thief my mark zusak really grabbed me…i couldn’t stop reading… best book i read in a bit

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