Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: "The Cold Song" by Linn Ullmann

It's amazing how destructive secrets and assumptions can be.

Siri Brodal is a driven, successful restaurant owner in Norway. She's married to Jon Dreyer, a well-known author who has written two-thirds of a popular trilogy, but can't seem to find the words or inspiration for a third book. Instead he spends his time staring at his computer, sending texts and emails to other women, and then having affairs with them (under the guise of walking the family dog or running errands). Siri knows that Jon is a philanderer, but she hopes that once he finishes his book their relationship might go back to normal, although it is consistently challenged by the erratic behavior of their older daughter, Alma.

In an effort to help Jon finish his book, the couple hires Milla, a young woman, to care for Alma and their younger daughter, Liv, when the family takes a summer holiday to the coast of Norway, where they stay in the mansion owned by Siri's formidable, eccentric mother, Jenny. Jenny and Siri's relationship has always been troubled, especially after the death of Siri's younger brother when he was four and she was six.

Milla's presence causes further friction in everyone's lives, especially as Milla takes an interest in Jon, one he appears to reciprocate. Then one night, during Jenny's 75th birthday, Milla disappears, seemingly without a trace. Although it takes a significant amount of time before her remains are discovered and the truth of what happened to her is revealed, her life—and death—brings to light suspicions and secrets that have remained dormant in many relationships. Both Siri and Jon wonder whether their actions played any part in what happened to Milla, and whether they could have done anything to prevent it from happening.

Linn Ullmann's The Cold Song is an interesting book, in that while there is a murder and that causes a bit of a mystery briefly, it is more of a book about how Milla's disappearance and death impacts the other characters and lays bare the fractures in their relationships. It's a tremendously atmospheric book, and you can almost feel the rain and mist that often surrounds the town where much of the book takes place.

Ullmann does a great job in creating her characters and giving them idiosyncrasies and layering them with complexity. While much of the plot is somewhat familiar, Ullmann's storytelling ability keeps you compelled, interested in finding out what issues will come to light and how the plot will be resolved.


  1. This is a wonderful book. The characters are deep and varied, and the setting in Norway is good. I think the language usage is the best part of this book, rather poetic.