Lucky Per read-along this May

C0353C75-F9E0-47D7-B1C4-083D27F8D434This painting by Paul Gustave Fischer gives an indication of Denmark about one hundred years ago, and I like the mood he creates in this winter scene. But I am even better able to create an image in my mind when I read.

As I read of Peter Andreas sneaking out of his house at fourteen years of age to go sledding in the moonlight, I immediately sensed the joy he must have experienced until he was caught by the night watchman. Undeterred, he tells a bald-faced lie about there being a knife fight at the top of the hill, and saying he will fetch the doctor he makes a quick escape. (How is that some people are able to lie so quickly, so effectively, and others, when caught, simply stammer or look blank?)

At this point in my reading, he has left his father’s home, determined to succeed in his lofty engineering plan (involving fjord realignment) which has already been proved faulty by his professor. He is borrowing money for suits he cannot afford, and sleeping with women he does not love. I am mesmerized by this novel, which “propelled its author (Henrik Pontoppidian) to a 1917 Nobel Prize for Literature.” (Introduction in the Everyman’s Library edition.) I am reading it, at the suggestion of Dorian, along with several others. You can find comments and observations on Twitter at #LuckyPer2019, and of course you are welcome to join in as we read this month of May.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra, Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list)


I shouldn’t be so intolerant of Sonja, a woman in her forties who just wants to learn to drive. Or, more specifically, to properly shift.

There was a time when I could drive a stick shift on any autobahn in Germany, but ever since having a small panic attack on 294 outside of Chicago a few years ago, I’ve been reluctant to go on any toll road whatsoever. So you’d think I’d be patient with this character’s weaknesses.

But, as I made my way through the book I just wanted to slap her.

She translates the fictional Swedish author Gösta Svensson’s crime novels, all the time wincing about the blood and semen descriptions, and nursing her aching wrists.

She complains about her driving instructor, Jytte, who seems boorish enough to make anyone nervous. But when Folke, the owner of the driving school, hears Sonja’s complaint and offers to teach her himself, she worries that he’ll attack her in the backseat.

She wears unpopular yellow clogs because the red are sold out. She has positional vertigo. She likes to sit in a field of rye. And, she doesn’t get along with her sister, Kate.

“In a lot of ways, thinks Sonja, Mom did me a disservice in believing I could just be myself. If I hadn’t been allowed to, then I’d be sitting right now with the whole package, but that train’s left the station. And if anyone does, Mom knows that you have to adapt if you’re going to entangle yourself in an intimate relationship. Kate knows that too. And Dad.” (p. 107)

Mirror, Shoulders, Signal is interesting enough in its own way, if you feel like reading a big long whine until you come to the last fifteen pages, but how it managed to be on the Man Booker International Prize long list surprises me.

Find more reviews at Messenger’s Booker, Winston’sDad’s Blog1st Reading’s Blog and Tony’s Reading List

Mirror, Shoulders, Signal by Dorthe Nors
Translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra
published by Pushkin Press
188 pages

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

“The snow flakes became bigger and bigger; finally they looked like big white hens. Then they fell to the side, the big sleigh stopped, and the person driving it stood up. The coat and hat were made of snow. It was a woman, so tall and dignified, so shining white—it was the Snow Queen.

“We’re making good time,” she said, “but you’re freezing. Creep into my bearskin fur,” and she placed him in the sleigh with her, put the fur around him, and it was as if he sank into a snowdrift. 

“Are you still cold?” she asked and then she kissed him on the forehead. Oh, it was colder than ice. It went right into his heart, which of course was partly a clump of ice. He felt like he was going to die–but only for a moment, then it felt good, and he didn’t notice the cold around him anymore.”

It is has been snowing for quite awhile, the most lovely snow of fresh powder and white. I’ve been sitting by the window reading most of the day, and needing a small break from the heavy book in which I’ve been immersed, I scrolled to “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen in my nook.

I’ve forgotten the joy of a truly good tale, a tale not only of excellent writing but of excellent worth. They are the kind of stories which I grew up with, stories we heard from our parents and read from our books; stories we studied in school which entertained while teaching at the same time.

Poor Kai, the little boy in the story, was pierced by an icy fragment in his eye and consequently deceived about all that was lovely and good. So when he hitched his sled to the Snow Queen’s sled he felt no alarm even when she drove off with him to her castle.

How like the White Witch this was! C. S. Lewis’ story has the White Witch courting Edmund in a similar way, not romantically of course, but spiritually. Turning him to the side of evil while the ice and cold so permeates the boy’s heart that he cannot recognize good any longer.

Fortunately, his friend Gerda searches for him and when she gets past the Snow Queen’s sentries she knows exactly what to do:

“Then little Gerda said the Lord’s Prayer, and all the cold was so intense that she could see her own breath. It came out of her mouth like smoke. It became more and more condensed and formed into small bright angels. They grew and grew when they touched the ground, and all of them had helmets on their heads and spears and shield in their hands. They became more and more numerous, and when Gerda had finished her prayer, she had a whole legion around her. They struck with their spears at the dreadful snowflakes so that they broke into a hundred pieces, and little Gerda walked safely and confidently forward.”

Hans Christian Anderson reminds us all about the power of being a little child: “Verily I say unto you, except ye become as little children, ye shall net enter the kingdom of heaven.” And he does it with snow, a Queen, and a setting in northern Scandinavia.

(Special thanks to Tom who’s recent post has inspired me to revisit this beloved author.)

Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen

“People saw only her cracked lips and filthy hair. Edging away from the repulsive bundle in her hands and her sleeves stained brown by dried blood, they didn’t see a fever ravaged fellow human in need. They didn’t see a person falling to pieces.”
Disgrace is the second in the Department Q series, following the prequel Mercy. It is everything that those who love Nordic crime could desire: tension, suffering, action and mystery. We follow Detective Carl Mørck through the investigation to solve six murders accompanied by his loyal and somewhat inept assistant, Assad. We follow Kimmie who has assumed the identity of a homeless woman because that is the only choice left to her by those more powerful than she. And we follow with mounting horror the antics of her former classmates: Ditlev, Kristian, Torsten, Ulrick and Bjarne. These prestigious business men hide a gruesome past behind a facade of success in modern day Copenhagen. But they cannot escape being the hunted, when once they were the hunters.
Thanks to Penguin UK for sending me this copy to review.

The Boy In The Suitcase

To me, the great favor which Scandinavian crime novels have enjoyed is greatly overrated. Stieg Larsson, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Jo Nesbo write thrillers with a great plot, but also with an over abundance of bloody, gory, dehumanizing horror. I haven’t really liked any of these crime novels, but I consider The Boy in The Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, to be the best of the bunch.

When Karin asks her friend Nina to pick up a suitcase in a locker, the last thing Nina expects to find is a little boy inside. When she does, she has unknowingly thrust herself into the middle of a very volatile situation. Searching for the boy is his mother, Sagita, and the man, Jucas, who has stolen him. Who will find him first? Will he be found alive? One wonders if this is yet another tale which involves nothing but destruction and death. Fortunately it is told with compassion, by authors who surely know what it means to be a mother. To have had a mother. Or, at the very least, to honor life.
“Here’s something you don’t often see in Nordic noir fiction — a novel written by two women about the criminal mistreatment of women and children, compassionately told from a feminine perspective and featuring female characters you can believe in…. the first collaborative effort of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, and it packs an almighty punch.”—The New York Times Book Review, Notable Crime Book of 2011

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I’m not quite sure why the three Scandinavian authors I’ve read include an inordinate amount of the grotesque in their novels; those of whom I speak are Larsson, Nesbo and now Adler-Olsen. Each one has written a novel which includes a woman being essentially tortured. Beyond one’s imaginings.
But, that’s not to say I wasn’t caught up in the novel as if I was watching a slow-motion train wreck. It is compelling reading, to learn what would become of Merete who had been held prisoner for five years in a pressure chamber. Wearing the same shirt for that amount of time was the least of her troubles. Her food was passed through an airlock in a bucket; another bucket was given to her for toilet purposes. The lights were kept on continuously, or off, for alternating periods of time, and every year the atmospheric pressure was raised one level.
It is up to Carl Morck, a detective who is so obstinate that he has been ‘promoted’ to newly established Department Q, to find out what has happened to Merete who’s been long assumed dead. Accompanied by his assistant, Assad, who has the ability to notice the finest detail, they set out to solve her case which had just been lying unresolved in an empty folder. For years.
Penguin tells me, “This is the very first time that the 2010 Glass Key Award winner (previously won by Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell) Adler-Olsen has been translated into English and published in the UK. In Denmark, MERCY hit the No 1 spot remained in the Top 3 for over a year. Jussi has also topped the charts in Germany, remaining on the bestseller list for 60 weeks so far.”
I personally found it a fascinating thriller, and look forward to more of the series which is to come.
Find the official teaser trailer for the book here, and interviews with the author here, here and here.