#WITMonth: Greenland Surprise

Niviaq Korneliussen: Crimson, transl. Anna Halagar (from the Danish – the author wrote the novel in Greenlandic, then translated it into Danish herself). Also #20Books of Summer No. 13.

This short novel certainly pushed at the boundaries of what I’d previously read. I’ve never read a book by an author from Greenland (and only one set partly in Greenland, namely Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow), so it was venturing out into a new geographical territory. Additionally, it is a book about alcohol and partying hard and queer identity in a country which still seems largely homophobic or misogynistic, so not a familiar scene either. In fact, there was one character who turns out to be trans but seemed unaware of it until it was pointed out by someone else, and I wasn’t quite sure if that was true to life, but it left me rather uncomfortable.

The novel is narrated in five chapters, each told from a different point of view, in a very stream of consciousness style, but also in a variety of different formats: letters, diary extracts, newspaper headlines etc.  Fia is the young woman emerging from an unsatisfactory relationship with a man, who to her complete bafflement suddenly finds herself attracted to a woman. Inuk is Fia’s brother, who feels let down by his friends and spouts homophobic superstitions and insults that he has picked up from his environment. Sara and Ivik are a couple, and Sara is conflicted and confused by her instant attraction to Fia, as she wants to be loyal to her girlfriend Ivik, but Ivik herself does not seem to want to be in a sexual relationship with her. Last but not least, Arnaq is Fia’s friend and is somehow linked to all of the others, an inveterate party-goer and alcoholic, who seems to betray everyone’s confidences without any qualms.

So far, so millenial, right? Or maybe not even millenial, for these ‘finding yourself’ stories about the partying lifestyle in your early 20s have appeared in many other literary or film guises, from Tomorrow Berlin by Oscar Coop-Phane to the TV series This Life or the more recent It’s a Sin, from Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler to the films American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused. What is unique about this book is that it’s not plot driven (there are neither farcical nor grandiloquent dramatic scenes here), that it’s composed mostly of interior monologue, but above all that it takes place not in a big city – but in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland (population 18,800).

Although the young people mix Danish and English phrases into their vocabulary, compared to their counterparts elsewhere, they feel trapped on their island.

You’re on an island that will never change. You’re on an island with no way out. You’re on an island from which you can’t escape. You’re on the completely wrong island…

Out of all of them, it is Inuk who seems most aware of the gap between appearance and reality in Greenland.

You’re a Greenlander when you help develop your country… You’re a Greenlander when you respect your ancestors… You’re a Greenlander when you’re proud of your nationality…

You’re a Greenlander when you’re an alcoholic. You’re a Greenlander when you beat your partner… You’re a Greenlander when you suffer from self-loathing. You’re a Greenlander when you’re full of anger…

Our nation, she who is ancient; go to the mountain and never come back… And take your rotten children with you.

The author has quite a knack for describing the angst and failures and regrets of her generation with wry self-irony. There are some clunky passages and conversations, which could be partly the protagonists’ own awkwardness, or the author’s inexperience, or the translator struggling to convey the local feel. The book has the fast, furious pace of dance music, although it is mostly drinking rather than dancing or drugs that this group of people engage in, thinking or talking about sex rather more than actually doing it. They seem stuck in a whirlpool of repetitive, destructive behaviour, in a claustrophobic small town.

I was instantly reminded of the book See You Tomorrow by Tore Renberg, where the characters are equally hell-bent on making a mess of their lives. That book was set in oil-rich Stavanger, but the characters seemed equally trapped in poverty, poor education and few viable choices. And yet, surprisingly, it is Crimson that has the more upbeat and hopeful ending, perhaps because the author is young and more optimistic. Not a masterpiece, but perhaps I am too old for this kind of novel. Still, it would be interesting to see what Korneliussen writes next.

The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson

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As part of the France Book Tours, I am pleased to welcome you to my blog today with a candid review of the eco-thriller The Greenland Breach.

 Release date: October 30, 2013
– Direct-to-digital translation (all major ebook outlets)
– Isbn: 978-1-939474-94-0 (Kindle)/ 978-1-939474-95-7 (epub)
– 113,000 words/285 pages
Buying links: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/get-books/ or the Amazon Le French Book page: http://www.amazon.com/l/6327897011#

Synopsis:

A stylish, fast-paced spy thriller about the intrigue, economic warfare and struggles for natural resources promised by global warming. The Arctic ice caps are breaking up. Europe and the East Coast of the Unites States brace for a tidal wave. Meanwhile, former French intelligence officer John Spencer Larivière, his karate-trained, steamy Eurasian partner, Victoire, and their bisexual computer-genius sidekick, Luc, pick up an ordinary freelance assignment that quickly leads them into the glacial silence of the great north, where a merciless war is being waged for control of discoveries that will change the future of humanity.

Author:

Award-winning thriller writer Bernard Besson, who was born in Lyon, France, in 1949, is a former top-level chief of staff of the French intelligence services, an eminent specialist in economic intelligence and Honorary General Controller of the French National Police. He was involved in dismantling Soviet spy rings in France and Western Europe when the USSR fell and has real inside knowledge from his work auditing intelligence services and the police. He has also written a number of prize-winning thrillers and several works of nonfiction. He currently lives in the fourteenth arrondissement of Paris, right down the street from his heroes.
Author page: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/our-authors/bernard-besson/

Translator:

Julie Rose is a prize-winning, world-renowned translator of major French thinkers, known for, among other works, her acclaimed translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which was published by Random House in 2008. She has translated twenty-eight books, including many French classics, and writes on the side. She lives in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, with her husband, dog and two cats.

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My Review:

This book is the first ecological thriller I have ever come across, but there is little moralising or preaching here. The author has a knack for taking topical issues and making exciting, highly complex adventures out of them. Global warming is but one of the culprits in this story: corporate and personal greed, national pride, inflated egos and lack of concern for the future of humanity are all equally to blame.

The plot is complex, with so many strands combining and so many instances of double-crossing that it is difficult to know whom to trust. Even the three main investigators at Fermatown come in ambiguous shades of grey at times. This makes them more nuanced and less obviously heroic than the main protagonists of many international thrillers. They are prone to appalling lack of judgement and rash decisions at times, which I attribute to their character flaws, but which the author may have done to move the plot forward. Their knowledge of the latest technology is unparalleled, but they are sometimes less discerning when it comes to people.

This not just about spying and international conspiracies, however As readers, we also witness moral dilemmas and real murders, with victims about whom we have started to care. My favourite character is the captain of the vessel stranded in Greenland, Loïc Le Guévenec, a simple man forced into bravery, when all he dreams of is to retire with his wife to a little house on the coast of Brittany.

The prose is taut and fast-paced, as befits a thriller, and you can tell that Monsieur Besson really knows his stuff. Yet it has more poetry to it than some American thrillers I have recently read. The beauty and severity of Greenland is lovingly described, as is the community feel of the Montparnasse district in Paris, where the Fermatown posse work and live.

In conclusion: buckle up tightly, you are in for a roller coaster of an exciting read, but you will have to concentrate, as the storyline may confuse you if you are not paying close attention.

See what other reviewers thought of this book by joining the blog tour here.

If you would like to win an e-book copy of The Greenland Breach, please leave a comment below and tweet about this review before midday (GMT) on Monday 11th November and I will select a winner at random and ask for your email address to have the link sent to you. Since it is an e-book, it is open to readers worldwide. Thank you and hope you enjoy the read!