Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
Today we welcome the Cursed blog tour.
With about a hundred pages of Cursed to go, there’s an uncharacteristic joke, and then the tempo abruptly changes. Until that point, Thomas Enger has given us big-budget drama. Think of Guy Ritchie, in a good way: gnarled-faced hardmen and a particularly violent set piece. Then, a cat-and-mouse hunt that reminds me, oddly, of Geoffrey Household, before a particularly unusual venue for a denouement and half a dozen endings.
That sounds horrifically complicated, but while Cursed is an ambitious novel, its momentum carries the reader along and it isn’t until afterwards that you realise just how multi-layered it really is. Yet, beyond the hard-boiled muscle for hire, this is really a tale of two families, and an exploration of power. On the one hand, the privileged Hellbergs include the dipsomaniac, the alpha male and the spoiled and ineffectual rich kid. But unlike the underworld, where the pecking order is very obvious, families have their own dynamic, especially if there is a secret (or many secrets) or unresolved sadness. In that latter state we place Henning Juul, his ex-wife and her new partner.
This is the fourth outing for Juul, but the first I’ve read. So I don’t know whether the heartbreaking back story is covered in the previous instalments, but we learn enough to explain the love and the tension between the characters. Juul takes the concept of the broken protagonist to a new level: he is a brilliant creation – stubborn, capable of shouldering huge burdens but also brittle and fragile.
Henning’s attempts to get to the truth about the death of his and Nora’s son are narratively intertwined with Nora’s investigation about a missing woman. It turns out that the two cases have a common core, and we as readers see both strands. It’s one of a number of devices that have us rooting for the former couple. They make mistakes, they move forward, they talk to each other but there’s too much history for them to work together well. There’s a relentless energy as we switch between the parallel narratives and between the mean streets of Oslo and the brooding forests of the Norwegian countryside.
Enger likes playing with language almost as much as he loves developing his characters and there are times where he’s clearly enjoying himself, but this never seems self indulgent, indeed we readers are treated to fresh and vivid metaphor. Kari Dickson has done a great job in translation. Overall, this is a rich and immersing novel.
There are two WTF moments: a short chapter that features an unnamed character thinking bad thoughts and also an ending which seems to take place in about four different parts with the last page in particular somewhat jarring. The issue of the ending arises partly because Enger is trying to set us up for book five in the series, and it does work in the context of a general theme throughout the book in which redemption does not easily happen – but I didn’t like it.
A clever and complex novel that in its plot, language and character development is big, bold and classy.
We have a signed copy to give away! To enter, just follow Cafethinking by email (look to the right of this post for details). The competition is open to all email followers registered by 7.00pm on Wednesday, 15 March 2017. I’ll update this post with news of the winner.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy and prize. And you might like to check out the other blogs taking part in the tour.