Last night, at 8:45pm. I started reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbø (translated by Don Bartlett). At 1:45am I finished the book. Five hours. That is how long it takes me to finish most novels. I read around an hour each day—mainly articles, but I don’t read books that often (comparatively speaking).
Besides updating my “Have Read” list, I want to share my impression:
Obviously, it was engrossing. I couldn’t put it down, even when my eyes burned and my eyelids drooped. However… I could not keep the characters straight, from start to finish. I could not tell you who was married to who and who was sleeping with who. I don’t know who Oleg’s father was and how Harry was connected to Rakel and Oleg. I don’t know who Jonas’ mother and father were (or who his real father was). I have no idea what happened to Harry’s mom (or why that affects him so much). I cannot tell you who Harry’s former partner(?) was or what happened to him. I don’t know how Harry was connected to the other detective The Snowman killed. I also was confused by Harry’s bosses. Who was who, and was Harry really the boss of one of his bosses?
I was lost the entire book and annoyed that the relationships were so confusing. Perhaps it was the late hour, or the Norwegian names. Have other readers have the same problem?
Another observation is that the subtext of infidelity took an eery turn through the book. At the beginning (indeed, the very opening) and for most of the book, the affairs were heavy with desire and passion. As we approach the end of the book, however, the idea that 20% of all Norwegian children do not know their real father becomes the prominent theme and the affairs are no longer thrilling, but repulsive. Which is fine. Except in the book, affairs become so repulsive that they must be punished. All of them. By gruesome death.
If you look for themes, a clear theme by the end of the book, is: “There are too many affairs and illegitimate children in Norway.” I doubt that Nesbø intended that theme (or any specific theme?). But it becomes the primary message.
The story itself is riveting. The details and twists are masterful and the puzzle of the plot is masterfully unveiled. But I sure was confused about the relationships. Also, I was confused as to why the woman (how was she connected to every/anyone?) caught in the swan trap (was that what it was?), the one who is an expert hatchet-thrower, misses when she throws the hatchet. I thought she was braced, balanced, and aimed. Additionally, I am confused about why Harry was pretending to be drunk that one time in that small bar when one of his bosses(?) came to talk to him.
My criticisms and questions do not spoil the book for me, though. Nesbø has written a thrilling, superb novel. Whenever I read a modern novel, I am reminded of this quote:
“There is a good saying to the effect that when a new book appears, one should read an old one.” – Winston Churchill
Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.
The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them. – Samuel Butler
Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all. – Henry DavidThoreau