The Cold Song
by Linn Ullmann
Translated by Barbara J. Haveland;
Cover Artist: Andreas G and Gary R
Review by Verna Suit
Other Press Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781590516676
Date: 08 April 2014 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Three boys dig for treasures they had previously buried but instead unearth the body of a girl who went missing two years before. Who killed Milla and why is the murder mystery of The Cold Song, but the book's real story concerns a dysfunctional family who tries to live together and understand each other but consistently fails.
The Dreyer-Brodal family spends its summers in an old family home in a coastal town several hours from Oslo. What should have been idyllic interludes have become ballets of pretense in which family members walk on eggshells trying to avoid confrontation.
Jon Dreyer is a noted novelist who is supposed to be finishing the third part of "the trilogy of the millenium". But he can't. He's suffered from writer's block for years and is unable to produce even a sentence that pleases him. Instead he drinks too much and is chronically unfaithful. His wife, Siri, is preoccupied with two restaurants that she owns and runs and which support the family. Their 12-year-old daughter, Alma, is odd and friendless.
Things come to a head when Siri insists on throwing a 75th birthday party for her mother, Jenny Brodal, who insists she doesn't want one. Jenny starts drinking again after 20 years of sobriety. Milla, who is a nanny to Alma and her younger sister, goes missing. An extended denouement follows as the family recovers from the events surrounding the disastrous birthday party.
The Cold Song is a jewel of a book. More literary than genre, it explores psyches rather than motives for murder: Siri feeling overwhelmed and inadequate; Jon wanting to write a "hymn to everything that endures and everything that falls apart" but not being able to find the words; Alma seeing much but understanding little. Milla's death is an important part of the story, but not in terms of bringing a killer to justice. Rather, it serves as a catalyst for a family's healing.