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9 May 2023

#Blogtour #Review - Thirty Days of Darkness by Jenny Lund Madsen

Cover for book "Thirty Days of Darkness" by Jenny Lund Madsen. View over water towards a wintry landscape of low buildings. In the foreground, the triangular gable of a dark, wooden building. In the central of the gable, a single window, it with reddish light, through which is visible a woman working at a laptop.
Thirty Days of Darkness (translated by Megan Turney)
Jenny Lund Madsen
Orenda Books, 25 May 2023, 
Available as: HB, 321pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 978191458616

I'm grateful to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me a copy of Thirty Days of Darkness to consider for review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the book's Random Things blogtour.

I was so much looking forward to this one - even just from the cover (yes, I know, don't judge a book by its cover, but who doesn't...) which delivered one of my favourite visual tropes, a lit window at night. The synopsis entices too - a literary author taking up the challenge to write crime, travelling to a remote corner of Iceland to do it, and stumbling across the real thing...

Hannah, the litfic darling at the centre of this book, the Danish author of sparse and plotless high fiction, is that controversial thing, an unlikeable main character. Confessedly alcoholic, she seems to be going through "issues" most of which Jenny Lund Madsen keeps from us though alcoholic Hannah is clearly also suffering from writer's block and from envy of the massively successful crime star Jørn Jensen. It all comes to a head at a book fair when she starts throwing things at him. Only the intervention of her editor Bastian, who converts the spat into a publicity opportunity, saves the day - but leaving her with that commitment to write a crime novel in 30 days. But anyone can do that, right?

I suspect many readers of this review (hi, both of you! Hope you're keeping well!) would sympathise with my view here that, no, we shouldn't be dissing anyone's choice of reading. So haughty Hannah is already edging into unlikeability before she starts insulting her placid landlady (who's driven six hours to collect her from the airport). 

Yet there is something about Hannah. She has a fatal and almost endearing tendency to rush into actions and situations without thinking, resulting in either toe-curling embarrassment (as with Ella the landlady), or actual danger (once the killings begin, and Hannah decides to investigate - it's not clear whether that is more from simple morbid curiosity, or a need for inspiration, though the latter certainly features). Sometimes the result is both embarrassment and peril.

And actually, it's not as though Hannah does a great deal better when she does think it all through. The best you can say is that, perhaps, she doesn't follow through the most outlandish of her ideas. They do though give the book a bit of a comedic edge, and by the end you may have a bit of respect for the forbearance shown her by the people of Húsafjörður.

That comedy shouldn't though distract from a thread of genuine darkness that threads through the core of this book. The title may refer to the dark days of midwinter, but as Hannah comes closer and closer to the truth of the situation she will discover it in the people of Húsafjörður too and begin to suspect everyone of being part of it.

Thirty Days of Darkness didn't disappoint me. In Hannah, Jenny Lund Madsen has given us a vividly portrayed and complex character whom I hope to meet again. The book recognises the expectations that have been generated by the wave of Scandi-noir - both for its readers and for those who get caught up in the events described. Indeed, Jørn's comments about how a crime novel ought to be constructed address both, as the story Hannah is writing gets tangled up with the "actual" events in Húsafjörður. Another layer is added by Hannah's reading an ancient Icelandic saga which has things to say about honour, vengeance and power.

All in all, a rather distinctive novel that makes full use of Hannah as its protagonist to approach the crime genre from a new angle.

Also, great fund to read - Megan Turney's English translation has to cope with a myriad of challenges: Hannah and the people she meets are mainly communicating in English, but not all of the latter are totally proficient and Ella, for example, tends to write rather than speak, with a lot of Icelandic left in. But the result is smooth and readable while accented just enough to recognises the different voices and languages in use here.

For more information about Thirty Days of Darkness, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy Thirty Days of Darkness from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.