Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your NameLet me get this out of the way right now: the best part of this book is that it took me just two hours to read. The worst part? Everything else.

Is that fair? Maybe not; my fellow book clubbers seemed to actually like the book, so clearly your mileage may vary. But I really disliked this book, from the awful main character to the impressively contrived “plot” to the eye-roll-inducing ending.

See, there’s this woman, Clarissa, whose mother skipped out on the family when Clarissa was a teen and whose father has just died. In the process of cleaning up her dad’s house, Clarissa sees her birth certificate for the first time and is like, hey, that’s not my dad’s name, what gives? And her fiancé is like, oh, sweetie, that’s terrible, bee tee dubs, I’ve known this for like fifteen years, no big. Understandably, Clarissa is pretty upset; less understandably, she decides to fly to Scandinavia to meet her “real” father without telling anyone.

As you might guess, this does not go as well as maybe she anticipated it would, but it gets worse when it turns out (and this is not really a spoiler as it is heavily implied beforehand) that this guy isn’t her father either, and Clarissa ends up drifting around Lapland, hoping to find herself.

I’m reading what I just wrote, and I’m like, huh, that story sounds pretty good, actually. And it could have been, but then shortly after what I just described things get really awfully convenient for Clarissa and she finds, well, a heck of a lot more family than she expected to, and in the oddest of places, and under incredibly unlikely circumstances (such as booking a room in the Ice Hotel on opening day because they accidentally built extra rooms and somehow didn’t sell them, because that makes total sense). Even worse is that the narrative is first person and apparently Clarissa is the kind of person who enjoys making droll witticisms except she’s really not very good at it and so the story ends up getting across some important points in a really clunky manner.

I’ll allow that the ending does give me a bit of food for thought; the moral that Clarissa seems to impart is that running away from your problems is a totally viable way of moving on and leading a happy life, though it is obvious from the entire rest of the story as told by Clarissa that that’s kind of a jerk move. Which is true? Should you live your life for you or for the people that love you? It’s an interesting question.

I don’t know what could have made me like this book better. Third-person narrative? A longer timeframe for the story? Fewer “coincidences”? A completely different author and book? Probably that one. I’m just glad it’s over.

Recommendation: For fans of unlikeable characters, stilted writing, and plot contrivances.

Rating: 3/10

Woman With Birthmark, by Håkan Nesser (7 June — 8 June)

Finally, a great book! I’ve been lacking them for so long….

I read this mystery without even looking at the jacket flap and I’m very glad of it; the flap would certainly have ruined a few interesting developments for me. So: go read it. Now. If you need more convincing, read on.

Woman With Birthmark is a mystery novel in which we meet the murderer in the first chapter but have no idea who she is, why she’s doing it, or even whom she’s going to kill. A few chapters later, we meet a man called Ryszard Malik who has been receiving odd phone calls that are simply a song recording being played over and over. Malik thinks he recognizes the song, but doesn’t understand its significance until it’s too late — so late that his wife comes home one night to find him dead in the entryway with two gunshot wounds to the chest and two to the, ah, groin. The police are called in and they do their best to solve this odd, improbable murder, but of course can’t make any connections until another man is found dead.

This is a Swedish novel from about ten years ago recently translated to English, so I’m not sure how much I’m missing due to a lack of Swedish culture — if you’ve any insight, you should let me know.

Rating: 9/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Sweden)