cover image The Cold Song

The Cold Song

Linn Ullmann, trans. from the Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland. Other Press, $15.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-59051-667-6

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.)