Posts Tagged ‘Sweden’

hitman anders

I’ve not read anything by Jonasson before, although I am aware of the acclaim that The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared attracted. And it had appeared in Waterstone’s May Book recommendations so I had pretty high hopes. Social satire, I thought; comedy, I expected; characters, I looked forward to.

I’m not sure I got any of that.

And that disappointment wasn’t even the worst.

The novel follows Per Persson, the hapless and penniless grandson of a criminal multi-millionaire horse dealer, whose father’s a drunkard and whose mother’s almost invisible. He drifts into a job in a brothel and, when the brothel becomes a hotel, he drifts into a situation living and working as the receptionist there. The Receptionist is, in fact, the name by which he is most often referred by the narrator, even 150 pages after leaving the hotel.

The narrative style is very knowing and the tone of that voice comes across as rather arch and dry, which I did rather enjoy. At least, initially. It was different from the intimate narrative voices I usually read or the wide sweeping divine narrators. I did not, however, find it either warm in its humour, nor terribly funny. Which seems to be a major issue in a novel sold as comical.

It seemed, instead, just a little mean.

I don’t know. Maybe it was the fact that it was in translation.

Persson meets two more unlikely charachters: Johanna Kjellander, a priest who does not belief in God and has just been evicted from her Church; Hitman Anders himself, recently released from prison following two murders and unwilling to return to the criminal justice system so avoiding committing any more murders. But quite happily handing out beatings and broken limbs for various criminals. Obviously the police in Sweden only deal in murder. Well, with the wealth of Nordic Noir novels, there seem to be a lot of murders to deal with!

In any event, Persson and Kjellander end up managing Hitman Anders’ contracts in exchange for a healthy slice of the profits., boosted by a somewhat hysterical media interest in the Hitman, the most dangerous man in Sweden.

And this is only the first of three unlikely business enterprises that they develop to exploit the intellectually challenged Hitman who finds God, becomes a Pastor of a church and a patron of the needy. Public opinion swings from hysterical terror to adulation.

Fraud, deception, drunkenness and assassinations follow. Tax evasions, heaven forfend. Dead bodies are left in their wake.

And, in all of this, not once did I really like either Persson ot Kjellander or the Hitman. Nor was there any real pace to the story which wandered around. And I found the incessant anti-Church commentary from Kjellander and the mockery of the church in the book uncomfortable. As a reader, it was just a little tedious and, although I am not a church-goer, I didn’t think that the  Communion becoming merely a winefest and the mockery of the congregation and the clergy and the administration was actually done in very good taste. Especially bearing in mind the final chapter.

Which brings us to the concluding chapter. Which didn’t. Conclude, that is. It didn’t conclude. I was listening to it as an audiobook and it literally just stopped. With no real sense of ending, it just stopped. I’m a fairly avid reader. I’m an English teacher. I am a writer. I know how to signpost an ending; I know about narrative structures; I can feel narrative arcs. And I did not know this book was ending. I cannot recall any other book that I have read where the ending was so blunt. I literally had to check to see that I’d not skipped over a couple of chapters.

I must say that, on the strength of this, I am not tempted to try to dig out a copy of The Hundred Year Old Man!

I worry about Sweden.

It keeps me up at night.

I wake in cold sweats.

I worry about the weather there: the snow and freezing temperatures. I worry about the trolls. I worry about IKEA. And I worry about the people. And families.

It must be a terrible place.

Every single novel I’ve read from there – Stieg Larsson, Mons Kallentoft and now Lars Kepler – seem to hold a mirror up to show the twisted, rotting heart of Swedish families. Darkly. Incest, violence, neglect, abuse.

I suppose any country that invents the concept of IKEA must have something to hide beneath the surface of its sleek plywood exterior.

I also worry about the effect of these books on the Swedish tourist economy. Especially on any hotel, bed and breakfast or hostel labelling itself as family-run.

*Disclaimer: yes, I do understand that these are works of fiction. This is not racism; it’s satire!*

Kepler – which is actually the nom de plume of the husband and wife team of Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril – opens The Hypnotist with the slaughter of what seems to be an entire family. The violence is gruesome but not lingered over – which is a relief to those of us with a tender nervous system! – and a couple of images of severed limbs and joints suffice.

A child is discovered still to be alive despite multiple wounds and extensive injuries and he is rushed to hospital. A familiar image then resolves: the well-meaning but somewhat brusque police officer wants to interview the child; the concerned doctor says he’s not up to it. And it’s at this point that the doctor calls in an expert in trauma care: the eponymous hypnotist Erik Maria Bark.

This is a book that jumps around between different points of view and we see the events of the story through the eyes of Bark; his wife Simone – whose nickname of Sixan I found was oddly sweet; Sixan’s father, a retired but police officer with a somewhat mythic status; and the aforementioned Police Officer, Joona Linna. Apparently Linna is the main character in the book which is the first in a series based around him.

Which is a little odd: Linna has a rather minimal role in the book and is the least used point of view; the book is not named after him; his character is barely fleshed out. Perhaps the plan is for Linna to be little more than a thread from which to hang more interesting characters that he encounters.

Erik Bark’s is the first viewpoint we see. Bark is given the honour of an extended first person flashback narrative half way through the book.

And Bark I did find interesting. His relationship with Sixan – flawed, frayed and fragile as it was – was actually quite moving. A hypnotist who doesn’t hypnotise. A doctor who self-medicates. A husband who has betrayed his wife. The way that a simple misunderstanding – the wrong person at the hospital answers his phone – fed by a previous betrayal – leads to doubt, fear and suspicion and eventually the disintegration of the relationship was actually rather deftly handled and moving. I hope that it doesn’t reflect the two Alex Ahndorils’ relationship! I’ve got enough to worry about!

There are a number of plots running through this book. The slaughtered family that opens the book is dealt with rather quickly: within 50 pages or so the injured boy, Joseph Ek, has been hypnotised, confessed to the murders, given the police the location of his surviving sister and escaped from hospital. Thereafter, Bark’s son Benjamin is kidnapped and the main plot commences. The race to find and rescue Benjamin is given even more urgency as he has a blood clotting disease and will die without weekly injections. The pace of the book is quick: the chapters are really short, perhaps 3 or 4 pages; the writing is in present tense; the changes in perspective are rapid; the writing is quite visual … it’s almost as if the Ahndorils had a mind to a film version as they were writing. A third and the weakest plot evolves as Sixan and her father investigate Benjamin’s computer in which a local gang – somewhat oddly naming themselves after Pokemon characters – have been terrorising Benjamin’s girlfriend and her brother.

The plots involving the Ek family and Benjamin’s disappearance were not terribly well integrated. The Ek plot seemed little more than a device to introduce Erik Bark and I felt it had more potential to be developed in its own right or could have been knitted into the main plot more fully. I wonder whether one was Alexandra’s plot and one was Alexander’s.

There is another gripe I have with the plotting. The main theme is that the past is never past: as a hypnotist, Bark’s research is to resolve his patients’ traumatic histories; Erik’s past betrayal gives Sixan’s present misunderstanding real pain. And the past is at the root of Benjamin’s kidnapping which we learn is rooted in the reasons why Erik gave up hypnotism. But he doesn’t remember that incident until he comes across a video of a hypnosis session. It just didn’t strike me as realistic that the phrase “the haunted house” would not have triggered Erik’s memory as soon as he had heard it!

Altogether though, a decent well paced thriller. And insofar as genres are useful (limited if at all: I do find genre a limiting concept. The temptation is to only read the books that a publisher has given a certain label too. Surely the only real genres are books-I-like and books-I-don’t-like. Otherwise we end up with Polonius wondering whether a book is

tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.

Anyway, rant over…) I’d say it is a thriller rather than crime because of the prominence of Bark as a character over Linna.

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