10.1.13

Peirene Press Readathon, No. 10: 'The Murder of Halland' by Pia Juul

Today we have The Murder of Halland, the final book in Peirene Press' 'Small Epics: Unravelling Secrets' trio and the eighth book in mine and Sam from Tiny Library's full Peirene Press Readathon, in which we read all of their novellas published to date (...although maybe I have a copy of the as-yet unreleased The Mussel Feast as well, who knows?:) Peirene Press, for those who don't know, is a small London publishing house which specialises in publishing the most celebrated and innovative European novellas which, for some reason or other, have not been translated into English before now. 

The Murder of Halland is the story of Bess, a Danish woman living in a small town, attempting to cope with the aftermath of the murder of her partner Halland, who is shot with a hunting rifle one morning upon leaving the house to go to work. Her first personal narration allows the reader into her mind, through a door left shockingly wide open, and to also observe the peripheral activities of both the police's murder investigation and also the unknown figures with a sometimes-suspect link to Halland who start appearing out of the woodwork.

I found this book to be an absorbing, bewildering, touching read, which almost made me late for work one morning as I couldn't put it down. The writing is sparse and leaves wide lacunas for the reader to fill - this is an intuitively written book for the intuitive reader. There is no spoon-feeding, let's say! Pia Juul is a wildly successful exponent of the subtle skill of saying vs. not saying, and her written is totally immersive: I had the creepy sensation I few times of feeling that I was Bess, which was bizarre, frankly, and alienating beyond the page. She really got under my skin.

I thought the portrayal of the relationships in the book was excellent too, and very affecting, particularly with regards to Abby, Bess' estranged daughter, who is to Bess, after not seeing her for a decade
...the most beautiful creature I had ever seen...
and also Brandt, her neighbour. The people who stumble into her life looking for Halland or wanting something from him are skilfully drawn, some of them barely appearing on the page, and they were all useful, fleshed out and not a look or word is wasted. There's his 'niece' Pernille who is heavily pregnant; Funder, the detective; Troels, Bess' ex-husband. Each have a place in the structure and subversion of what is a re-imagined murder mystery, within which Bess is also naturally a suspect. Everything in this book feels necessary - I can think of no better way to describe it - which means you don't get bogged down in back stories or extraneous detail, which I loved; Juul seems to credit the reader with enough intelligence to presume some things and to infer others for themselves. Also, she's not afraid to let a question mark hang, which I loved.

On an emotional level, my perception of the experience of extreme grief has altered, and I found that this disorientating book rang absolutely true. I was touched by Bess' grief-stricken irrationality - she gets drunk and embarrasses herself, she yells at people and shouts down the phone - and appreciated the fact that Juul wrote her as a person, not a paragon or the archetypal grieving woman. I also enjoyed the subtle unveiling of the facts, leading to the obscure but likely conclusion.

A disarming and unforgettable read.

The other reviews in our Peirene Press Readathon series:

Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi (mine) ¦ (Sam's)
Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal (mine)
¦(Sam's)
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (mine) ¦ (Sam's)

Peirene Discussion Post #1 - Female Voices: Inner Realities

Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki (mine) ¦ (Sam's) 
Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen (mine) ¦ (Sam's) 

Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig (mine) ¦ Sam's 
Peirene Discussion Post #2 - Male Dilemmas: Quests for Intimacy
 

The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg (mine)  ¦ (Sam's)
The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul (Sam's)

Title: The Murder of Halland
Author: Pia Juul, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
Date: Original 2009, translation 2012
Format: Paperback, 167 pages, and I was sent it by Peirene Press for review as part of this readathon series.


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