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2018 Book Selections

Tuesday, February 20 - Nesbø, Jo. Blood on Snow (194 pages)

From the internationally acclaimed author of the Harry Hole novels—a fast, tight, darkly lyrical stand-alone novel that has at its center the perfectly sympathetic antihero: an Oslo contract killer who draws us into an unexpected meditation on death and love.

This is the story of Olav: an extremely talented “fixer” for one of Oslo’s most powerful crime bosses. But Olav is also an unusually complicated fixer. He has a capacity for love that is as far-reaching as is his gift for murder. He is our straightforward, calm-in-the-face-of-crisis narrator with a storyteller’s hypnotic knack for fantasy. He has an “innate talent for subordination” but running through his veins is a “virus” born of the power over life and death. And while his latest job puts him at the pinnacle of his trade, it may be mutating into his greatest mistake. . . .

Tuesday, April 24 - Vesaas, Tarjei. The Ice Palace (176 pages)

A new edition of what is commonly seen as the legendary Norwegian writer’s masterpiece, this story tells the tale of Siss and Unn, two friends who have only spent one evening in each other’s company. But so profound is this evening between them that when Unn inexplicably disappears, Siss’s world is shattered. Siss’s struggle with her fidelity to the memory of her friend and Unn’s fatal exploration of the strange, terrifyingly beautiful frozen waterfall that is the Ice Palace are described in prose of a lyrical economy that ranks among the most memorable achievements of modern literature. (He is the author of The Birds, which we read in 2017.)

Tuesday, June 19 - Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter Book Two “The Wife” (366 pages)

Sigrid Undset’s epic saga of medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter, moves at the pace of medieval life. The slowness of that pace serves two useful and powerful purposes. The first of these is that this measured pace, slow as it might feel to contemporary readers, allows Undset to develop characters of great depth, characters that the reader is able to get to know intimately. This deliberate pace also allows Undset to offer descriptions of living conditions in 14th century Norway that give Kristin Lavransdatter II the believability of history even as it offers the drama of fiction.

The story picks up just after the events of the first novel (known as The Wreath) end. Kristin, against her father’s preference and, having broken the heart of her betrothed, Simon Andresson, marries her lover Erland Niklausson.

The two main narrative threads that dominate The Wife are the domestic struggles between Kristin and her husband Erland and Erland’s foolhardy political maneuvering that nearly costs him his life. Kristin, pregnant when she marries, eventually gives birth to six sons in the course of the novel, turns her reckless husband’s estate into a successful enterprise, and spends a good bit of time worrying about her soul. In one of those ironies that happen in fiction, her former fiancé Simon marries her baby sister Ramborg. This connection proves crucial in the narrative thread, both because it helps to reconnect Kristin to her family estate, Jorungaard, (indeed, it leads to her reconciliation with her father) and it adds an element of romantic complication. Erland is, for all his charm, a bad husband and father, a cause of considerable frustration and anger to Kristin who is both a protective mother and a faithful wife.

Tuesday, August 21 - Sundstøl, Vidal. The Devil’s Wedding Ring (280 pages)

A mysterious disappearance at a 13th-century church in his native Norway draws detective Max Fjellanger into an old case—and a world of ancient ritual, superstition, and present-day danger.

After a mysterious disappearance, private investigator Max Fjellanger is plunged into a menacing world of ghostly monks, severed pigs’ heads, and mythic rites, all somehow connected to Midsummer Eve, which is fast approaching. This is award-winning crime novelist Vidar Sundstøl at his best, spinning a tale that is taut with suspense and steeped in Norwegian culture, past and present. (He is the author of the popular Minnesota Trilogy.)

Tuesday, October 23 - Fossum, Karin. Broken (272 pages)

A woman wakes up in the middle of the night. A strange man is in her bedroom. She lies there in silence, paralyzed with fear. The woman is an author and the man is one of her characters, one in a long line that waits in her driveway for the time when she’ll tell their stories. He is so desperate that he has resorted to breaking into her house and demanding that she begin. He, the author decides, is named Alvar Eide, forty-two years old, single, works in a gallery. He lives a quiet, orderly life and likes it that way—no demands, no unpleasantness. Until the icy winter morning when a young drug addict, skinny and fragile, walks into the gallery. Alvar gives her a cup of coffee to warm her up. And then one day she appears on his doorstep. Broken is an unconventional, subtle, and disturbing mystery from a master of the form. (Fossum is Norway’s Queen of Crime.)

Tuesday, December 11 - Jacobsen, Roy. The Unseen

“Islanders are never afraid, if they were they wouldn’t be able to live here...” Roy Jacobsen, in The Unseen

The Unseen shows a way of life that would be foreign to most - early twentieth century Norway, an isolated island off the North-western coast, a rowboat the only tenuous link to the mainland, and a solitary family at the mercy of the unpredictable and often violent Arctic weather. Winter is a daily battle for survival, but these islanders know no other way of life. Not only are they up against the volatile weather, but their own hopes and dreams and fears, and a changing nation.

The fictional Barrøy Island off the Norwegian coast is the main character of this novel. We get to know her intimately, all her hollows and crags, coves, headlands, white sandy beaches and her scarce trees. She is exposed to the elements, at the mercy of the unpredictable Arctic winds, the violent winter storms, frosts, snow, the merciless summer sun and threat of drought despite being surrounded by water. Her residents are few; sheep and cattle, at times a horse or a cat or a pig, and the sole family, the Barrøys from who the island takes her name.

Hans Barrøy is the head of the family. A fisherman at heart, he reluctantly accepts the necessity of farming but leaves the island for months each winter to fish the dangerous, but rich, Arctic seas. Hans’ wife Maria is strong and stoic, a hard worker but one who longingly gazes in the direction of her own family’s island and dreams of a different life. Barbro is Hans’ adult sister and he protects her fiercely. She carries a significant load of the physical work on the island despite her intellectual disability. Ingrid is three years old when we meet her, the only child of Hans and Maria. Hans watches her intently, searching for any sign that she has inherited the same condition as Barbro, which has been passed down his family line.