The Murder of Halland, by Pia Juul, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitkin
Whodunit, who cares?
Halland and Bess live in a small town where everyone knows your name. One day, Halland is shot dead in the town square, and not surprisingly, this is the catalyst for Bess to reassess her life. Who killed Halland? Bess is not all that interested, even as her life lurches on and unexpected people keep showing up on her doorstep. Who, after all, was the Bess who lived with Halland and yet did not share his life, and who is the Bess who seems unable to grieve for her not-quite-husband?
The book might be called The Murder of Halland, but that is not the actual subject of the book. Bess is the focus, and we are meant to see the world from her viewpoint. She is smart, she is skewed, and she may be slowly unhinging. She does not mourn Halland so much as mourn for the person she may have been: he was never in her life, and neither was she ever in his. Bess finds out about the pregnant foster-niece in Copenhagen, about the apartment she lives in for which he paid the rent, about his share of the apartment, a small locked room with a gigantic poster of Martin Guerre. What does it all mean? She speculates, she gets drunk, she finds out things that she doesn’t share with the police, she loses interest . . . . and so did I. In the end, Bess was just too irritating to be intriguing.
The Murder of Halland was my first dip into the Peirene Press, “two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film.” Clever, well-written, claustrophobic, perhaps too interested in “intellectual dismantling” of an entire genre, and ultimately a most unsatisfying two hours of my life.
Chia, who is quite perturbed that Martin Aitkin, PH.D in Linguistics, does not know the difference between further and farther.