Review of ‘See You Tomorrow’ by Tore Renberg, transl. Sean Kinsella

SeeYouTomorrowCan a book be exhilarating and depressing at the same time? Well, this book about a bunch of misfits and losers in the oil-rich but isolated Norwegian town of Stavanger certainly manages just that. Readers and reviewers typically mention the hefty nature of this book (600 densely-written pages), but time flies by when you’re having fun and I read this all in just a couple of days. It’s the story of people making all the wrong choices, finding ways to justify those bad choices and generally making a complete mess of their lives. And yet, like an accident waiting to happen, you are compelled to read on, you cannot divert your eyes.

The chapters themselves are quite short, and each is written from a different point of view, alternating between ten main characters. The wealth of North Sea oil has not really filtered through to these characters in search of a life or redemption (but not of an author, they have certainly found that: Renberg gives them a great voice). There is Pål, good-natured but weak, a single Dad with an online gambling problem, who needs to raise money urgently to pay off his debts. His two daughters, Tiril and Malene, each cope with their mother’s abandonment in their own way: the first is an emo, the second is a gymnast whose dreams of a career may be shattered along with her ankle. Overweight horror-film addict Jan Inge leads a group of gangsters, which numbers his grumpy younger sister Chessi and her hyper, talkative boyfriend Rudi as well as uber-toughie Korean Tong amongst its members. Finally, there is the handsome juvenile delinquent in foster care, Daniel William, with two girls falling under his spell: good Christian girl Sandra and his deaf foster-sister Veronika. Over the course of three days, their lives will cross in a whirlwind of deliberate choices, accidents and coincidences, violence, black comedy and tragedy.

Author picture from dagbladet.no
Author picture from dagbladet.no

The author does a fantastic job of getting into the heads of each of his characters: each speaks, thinks, reacts in very different yet equally believable ways. The hormonal confusion of teenagers, the middle-aged yearnings for a better life, the casual juxtaposition of weakness and criminal tendencies are so plausible that it’s almost frightening. My favourite character (although I would hate to meet him in real life) is Rudi: you cannot help but smile at his tendency to over-share, his discomfort with silence, his highly verbal love for Chessi, his (much denied) love for Coldplay although ostensibly he and his mates only listen to heavy metal.

Social criticism, psychological insights, dark humour, a good dose of popular cultural references, crime drama, YA vibe and real sadness: this book contains all of these and more. Most remarkably, in the hands of this author these disparate elements don’t disintegrate into a hodge-podge of influences and trendy bits designed to please all audiences. Instead, it’s a virtuoso performance of an orchestra with very strong soloist performances. This must have been a difficult book to translate  but Sean Kinsella does a marvellous job of conveying the technical brilliance of the different narrative voices. Apparently, it took the author six years to research this book and capture all the different points of view – and it shows. One of the most original and unclassifiable books I’ve read this year, in a beautiful hardback cover with red page borders.

Thank you to Arcadia Books for this review copy sent to me in exchange for my honest opinion. 

What I’ll Remember of 2013

In terms of books, of course. I know the year is not quite over, but I am stuck in a huge book, so I don’t think I’ll get to read much else. 

I’ve done a summary of my top five crime reads (books published in 2013 and reviewed by me) on the Crime Fiction Lover website. These, however, are more of a motley collection of books I’ve loved, regardless of genre, reviews, whether they were published recently or not.  And they don’t fit neatly into a list of ten.

the harbour of Marseille
The harbour of Marseille (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Haynes: Into the Darkest Corner     The most frightening description of OCD, conveyed with a real sense of menace. Psychological shudders guaranteed.

Jean-Claude Izzo: Marseille Trilogy    Just glorious, despite the darkness – a symphony for the senses.

Birgit Vanderbeke: The Mussel Feast    Damning, elegant prose, as precise as a scalpel, dissecting families and tyranny of all kinds.

Katherine Boo: Behind the Beautiful Forevers      Somewhere between anthropology and fiction lies this utterly moving book, an unflinching look at the everyday life, hopes and horrors in an Indian slum. The book that I wish more than anything I could have written.

Esi Eudgyan: Half Blood Blues     Who cares about accuracy, when it has the most amazing voice and melody, all of the whorls of the best of jazz improvisation?

English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary
English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Denise Mina: Garnethill       Another book strong on voice and characters, perfectly recreating a Glasgow which I’ve never known but can instantly recognise. Initially depressing but ultimately uplifting.

Karin Fossum: Calling Out for You     Almost elegiac crime fiction, with uncomfortable portrayals of casual racism, the cracks in an almost perfect little society/ This was an eerie and haunting tale, almost like a ghost story.

Ioanna Bourazopoulou: What Lot’s Wife Saw       The most imaginative novel I have read all year, it defies all expectations or genre categories. I felt transposed into an Alice in Wonderland world, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Bangkok
Bangkok (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

John Burdett: Bangkok Eight      Clash of cultures and unsentimental look at the flesh trade in Thailand, this one again has an inimitable voice.

Carlotto: At the End of a Dull Day     If you like your humour as black and brief as an espresso, you will love the tough world of Giorgio Pellegrini. So much more stylish than Tarantino!

Karl Ove Knausgaard: A Man in Love      Perhaps it’s too soon to add it to the list, as I only read it last week, but it felt to me like an instant classic.

So what strikes me about this list?

1) They are none of them a barrel of laughs, although there are occasional flashes of (rather dark) humour in them.

2) With the exception of the Katherine Boo ethnography, I wouldn’t have expected to be bowled over by any of the above. So keeping an open mind is essential for discovering that next amazing read.

3) There were other books which initially made much more of an impression (the Fireworks Brigade, shall we say), but when I look back on what really stuck with me, what made me think or feel differently as a result of reading them, those are the books I would have to point out.

English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Ca...
English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Carl Johan Billmark 1868. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) They are each set in a different city and country: London, Marseille, a dining room in Germany, Mumbai, war-time Paris, Glasgow, Norway, the Dead Sea sometime in the future, Bangkok, Venice and Stockholm.  What can I say? I love to travel!

On that more upbeat note, I’ve discovered many new (to me) writers and series this year. Some of them are gentler, funnier reads, perfect to unwind. Here are a few that I hope to read more of: Louise Penny, Martin Walker, Pierre Lemaitre and Anne Zouroudi.