The Cold Song

The Cold Song

4.0 2
by Linn Ullmann
     
 

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One of the New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2014!

Ullmann’s characters are complex and paradoxical: neither fully guilty nor fully innocent
 
Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner, is married to Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist plagued by writer’s block. Siri and Jon have two daughters,

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Overview

One of the New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2014!

Ullmann’s characters are complex and paradoxical: neither fully guilty nor fully innocent
 
Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner, is married to Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist plagued by writer’s block. Siri and Jon have two daughters, and together they spend their summers on the coast of Norway, in a mansion belonging to Jenny Brodal, Siri’s stylish and unforgiving mother.
 
Siri and Jon’s marriage is loving but difficult, and troubled by painful secrets. They have a strained relationship with their elder daughter, Alma, who struggles to find her place in the family constellation. When Milla is hired as a nanny to allow Siri to work her long hours at the restaurant and Jon to supposedly meet the deadline on his book, life in the idyllic summer community takes a dire turn. One rainy July night, Milla disappears without a trace. After her remains are discovered and a suspect is identified, everyone who had any connection with her feels implicated in her tragedy and haunted by what they could have done to prevent it.
 
The Cold Song is a story about telling stories and about how life is continually invented and reinvented.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Leah Hager Cohen
Although a vicious crime serves as the grain of sand around which this pearl of a novel is formed, Linn Ullmann's The Cold Song is not a crime story…Yet the novel…is steeped in dread the way a fruitcake is steeped in rum: Every page, every line, seems to glisten with vapors of sumptuous, intoxicating unease…Ullmann's voice on the page is a lean, tough-minded thing, scrubbed and scoured of sentimentality straight through to the final, Carveresque pages, in which she pulls off an 11th-hour radiance, a tonal shift from minor to major key. The novel's charm lies in these idiosyncratic glints, these glimmers of queer wit, uncensored scorn or sudden, unstinting sympathy. Like Alma, Ullmann can't be depended upon to comply neatly with form. As with Alma, you trust her all the more for it.
Publishers Weekly
01/27/2014
The discovery of a corpse, presumed to be a murder victim, comes very early in this involving fifth novel from Ullmann (Before You Sleep). But it serves mostly as a basis for the author’s subtle and menacing look at family dynamics. The story proceeds through flashbacks to those who were connected with the victim, a 19-year-old nanny named Milla. The prose is almost clinically cool, and the reader observes as three young boys digging for buried treasure find the body, then as an extended cast of characters react to the news of Milla’s death. Milla worked as a nanny for young Alma and Liv, daughters of restaurateur Siri Brodal and her novelist husband Jon Dreyer, who are both struggling in their careers and their marriage. The family is spending the summer with Siri’s mother, Jenny, an imperious woman closing in on 75, in her huge, elegant house by the sea in rural Norway. As a role model for Alma and a constant irritant to Siri, Milla upsets further the already-delicate family dynamics. Ullmann teeters between dark comedy of manners and genuine psychological thriller, but she consistently captures the telling moments in everyday encounters, and writes seductively complex characters. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2014

“Ullmann’s voice on the page is a lean, tough-minded thing, scrubbed and scoured of sentimentality straight through to the final, Carveresque pages, in which she pulls off an 11th- hour radiance, a tonal shift from minor to major key. The novel’s charm lies in these idiosyncratic glints, these glimmers of queer wit, uncensored scorn or sudden, unstinting sympathy.” —New York Times Book Review

"Ullmann is very good at evoking the peculiar, charged stasis of a household in which mentally active and intellectually vital people are resolutely failing to communicate with each other—the loneliness of communality, in short. She is a very exact writer, who is unsparing of her characters: a tonic, sharp, lyrical, intelligent novelist who deserves to be better-known in English." —The New Yorker Page-Turner Blog

“Ullmann’s rural Norway is an unfussy place, eloquent for its starkness, much like the spare language she paints it with. Her stage is less about physical place than mood and one’s place in the familial symmetry. While much happens in this novel, the events feel secondary. The prose is taut, yet the pace is languid as summer in that before-the-storm tension…The real achievement of this novel is Ullmann’s gift to imbue the tension of a thriller via the unease of the mundane…Yes, a murder occurs, but The Cold Song is more a mystery in the way most families tend to be mysteries unto themselves.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

Disturbingly tangled and riveting Norwegian fiction…Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song reads like a cross between a psychological thriller and a grim fairy tale, the kind that takes place in a big house haunted by angry parents, lonely children and secrets ranging from the ordinary to the catastrophic.” —More 

"[A] dark, lyrical novel with a firecracker of a beginning...Ullmann...is a forceful, exquisite talent." —Oprah.com

"The fifth novel by an award-winning Norwegian author and critic deserves to win her a much larger stateside readership." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Intriguing...Ullmann teeters between dark comedy of manners and genuine psychological thriller, but she consistently captures the telling moments in everyday encounters, and writes seductively complex characters." —Publishers Weekly

“A deeply moving story of troubled relationships and unsettled memories.” —Booklist.com

The Cold Song doesn't so much unfold as it revolves, around the sudden disappearance of Milla, the young and beautiful summer nanny hired to take care of Siri and Jon's two children. The real ‘meat’ of the novel rests in its keen and unflinching exposure of the inner lives of its characters, revealed in brief spurts of narrative that shift back and forth in time. The result is riveting.” —Bookpage 

"Ullmann deftly slips beneath the skin of her characters, depicting their wounds and worries in subtle gradations of tone and texture. The Cold Song remains a captivating, hybrid book." —SFGate.com

“In her latest heart-stopper, internationally bestselling author Ullmann, (who lives in Oslo), combines a mysterious murder with a razor-sharp eye for family relationships.” —Reader’s Digest

“In The Cold Song, Linn Ullmann explores the events surrounding a young woman’s murder in brief, haunting flashes that imbue the intimacies and betrayals of family life with the brooding magic of a Grimm’s fairy tale. This delicate, mesmerizing work attests to Ullmann's vast storytelling powers.” —Jennifer Egan, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award

The Cold Song is a wonderful book, like a family album made by a photographer who really cares for his subjects….The book has the light but also the weight of a Bergman film. It doesn't offer easy solutions but still has a kind of healing power."  —Peter Stamm, finalist for the Man Booker International Prize 2013 and author of We’re Flying and Seven Years

The Cold Song recounts the unfolding of a large tragedy that has already happened—the mysterious disappearance of Milla, an adolescent girl—while also showing the smaller tragedy of a faltering marriage. Combining the tension of a whodunit with the subtlety of a domestic drama, Ullmann’s riveting novel is measured, impeccably observed, and utterly chilling.” —Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch

"The Cold Song is a fluid, shape-shifting novel, a family saga that turns into an erotically charged drama and then takes a darker turn into the terrain of a murder mystery. Linn Ullmann is an unusually talented and sympathetic writer, able to inhabit a wide range of characters and bring them all vividly to life.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Nine Inches: Stories and The Leftovers

“Contrary to popular belief, a death is not merely an end but the beginning of a story. The death in The Cold Song opens a Pandora’s box of human emotions, conflicts and deceptions. Readers of this novel will be reminded of the joys and complexities of living. Memories, laughter, gestures, trivialities—everything casts a shadow, and nothing leaves us safe. Linn Ullmann has mastered the art of seeing into the dark mysteries that make us who we are.” —Yiyun Li, award-winning author of The Vagrants and Kinder Than Solitude

“Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song is a haunting novel about all the ways we endeavor to love and be loved, and the many mistakes we can make while trying. It's suspenseful and beautifully written and so absorbing that I could not put it down. When I finished reading it, I remained in a state of awe.” —Vendela Vida, author of The Lovers and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

“[The Cold Song is] a psychological tour de force—not a beat wrong. The ending crept up on me, so quiet and unexpected. It’s a brilliant scene, with everybody locked in character—in the huit clos finality of character—and it hits you the minute you put the book down. I stayed up half last night finishing it, and now I’m sitting bleary-eyed at my desk, paying for the pleasure.” —Jane Kramer, author of Europeans and The Politics of Memory

The Cold Song is a superb psychological mystery and a must for anyone who enjoys the genre. The writing is excellent. The switches between the time of the murder, the discovery of the body, and subsequent developments are many, but they fit together seamlessly. Highly recommended.” —John A. Broussard, I Love A Mystery

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-02-20
The fifth novel by an award-winning Norwegian author and critic deserves to win her a much larger stateside readership. The latest and best from Ullmann (A Blessed Child, 2008, etc.) resists categorization, except as a literary page-turner. It's a murder mystery. It's a multigenerational psychodrama of a dysfunctional family. And it's a very dark comedy of manners. Yet the author's command is such that it never reads like a pastiche or suffers from jarring shifts of tone. The plot focuses on the events of one day, the 75th birthday of Jenny Brodal, a cold and caustic woman who's so resistant to the party being thrown in her honor that she ends her sobriety of almost 20 years and gets roaring drunk. Jenny's daughter Siri, who throws the elaborate party, is a chef and restaurateur. Her husband, Jon, is a mostly forgotten novelist with the worst case of writer's block since The Shining. He's also a narcissistic lecher and the source of the novel's comedy. He had "planned to write a hymn to everything that endures and everything that falls apart. But truth be told he wasn't sure what he actually meant." The couple's two daughters remain on the novel's periphery, though one of them is seriously and increasingly disturbed. The girls' nanny, Milla—who has "breasts that men couldn't help staring at''— has developed a mutual attraction with Jon, which strains both of their relationships with Siri. Echoes of dead children, grieving parents, empty marriages and broken lives abound. The day of the party becomes both farce and tragedy, with Milla disappearing and Jenny's drunken decline leaving questions until the very end. The author might be best known in this country as the daughter of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann, but her accomplishment here merits more than recognition by association.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590516676
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
04/08/2014
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
190,114
Product dimensions:
5.53(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

But something was wrong. Siri held her breath. It had to do with Milla. Or something else. But Milla definitely had something to do with it. Her presence here at Mailund. The slightly lumpish body, the long dark hair (long dark hairs on the kitchen counter, in the bathroom sink, between the sofa and the sofa cushions, on the base-boards and doorframes), her face, sometimes pretty, sometimes not, beseeching eyes.
 
More and more Siri found herself having to concentrate in order to keep herself in check—was that the expression? Keep oneself in check? Be one. One body, one voice, one mouth, one thread, and not fall apart, dissolve, collapse in a heap.
 
“Your main responsibility,” Siri said, “will be to look after Liv for five hours or so every day. But we’d be grateful if you’d keep an eye on Alma as well. Alma’s twelve. She’s”—Siri searched for the right word —“a bit of a loner.”
 
Milla laughed hesitantly, brushed the hair back from her pretty moon face and said that she thought it all sounded really great.
 
It was a mild, bright day in May and Siri had invited Milla to the house in Oslo. The idea was for them to get to know each other a little better before the summer. Alma was at school, Liv was at nursery school, and Jon had gone for a long walk with Leopold. Something about a chapter he was having trouble writing.
 
Milla had replied to the ad on the Internet for a summer job and Siri had been taken with her application. In her e-mail she came across as a happy, friendly, reliable girl. It would be fantastic to get to know all of you and be able to be part of your family this summer. If I get the job I’ll do my best to be a good “big sister” to your daughters so that you and your husband won’t have to worry when you’re at work.

Meet the Author

Linn Ullmann is an award winning author, journalist, and literary critic. She has published four other novels in 33 languages, all of them critically acclaimed international bestsellers: Before You Sleep, Stella Descending, Grace, and A Blessed Child.  Ullmann is a cofounder and former artistic director of the international artist residency foundation of The Bergman Estate on Fårö. She lives in Oslo with her husband and children.

Barbara J. Haveland translates fiction, poetry, and drama by leading Danish and Norwegian writers such as Peter Høeg, Ib Michael, and Jan Kjærstad. Recent projects include new translations of Ibsen’s The Master Builder, Little Eyolf, and A Doll’s House. She lives in Denmark.

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The Cold Song 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
This book kept my interest to the end. I think that Siri will never know if her Mother really blamed her for the death of her brother or if they just had a difficult mother/daughter relationship, sad family life. Good book, I did enjoy it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago