Sunday, 8 July 2012

Peirene Press - Pia Juul: The Murder of Halland

I like something a bit different to read, and the big mainstream publishers seem so often to just churn out the same-old, same-old, stuff.   So I often trawl the internet for some of the smaller presses, the so-called 'boutique' publishers, like Salt and Granta.  I've just discovered Peirene Press, who publish short novels and novellas of contemporary European fiction in translation.

I've just read 'The Murder of Halland' by Danish author and poet Pia Juul.  It's technically crime fiction, in that the central character Halland is shot in the opening pages, but it's the emotional life of his wife Bess that is the focus of the book rather than a search to find out who committed the crime. In fact at the end of the book I was not much wiser than I was at the beginning, but it was a very interesting journey.

'Pia Juul .... dismantles the rules of an entire genre', the cover blurb promises.  And she does.   This is literary fiction of a very high calibre.  The story is narrated in the first person by Bess herself, and she is a very unstable, unreliable, narrator - dealing with all the baggage of broken relationships - an abandoned daughter she grieves for, an ex-husband who has never forgiven her for leaving.  She doesn't understand her own emotions, locks uncomfortable things away in drawers and boxes.  Things she now has to confront.
Why did Halland have a strange set of keys in his pocket?  Why had all his papers been removed from the house?  Where was he going when he was killed?  Pia Juul gives us exploration rather than answers.

There's a very interesting video of Pia Juul talking about the novel and her work generally - if you can just ignore the irritating interviewer!
I'm currently devouring a book of Austrian short stories from Peirene ('Maybe This Time' by Alois Hotschnig).  The press is a fantastic find - you can take out a subscription and they send you a book every four months, but I'm still tracking through the back list and fancy a book called 'The Brothers' by Finnish author Asko Sahlberg next.

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