Harvill Secker, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

Berlin Poplars, By Anne B Ragde, trans James Anderson

A sophisticated exploration of family by a prize-winning Norwegian novelist

The three Neshov brothers are not closely knit. Beyond a dollop of DNA, their only common attribute is a marked mutual antipathy. The middle brother, Margido, is an undertaker with a thriving business. He is single, with ample excuse for staying aloof from emotional entanglements, busy as he is making funeral arrangements and calming the bereaved.

The Norwegian writer Anne Ragde's novel opens as Margido deals with the distraught parents of a teenage suicide. He is too busy to consider visiting his elder brother Tor, and their aged parents at the family farm. Not that Margido's neglect bothers Tor, who seems happiest in the pig shed in the company of his favourite sows. The youngest brother, Erlend, long ago fled small-town homophobia to live in Copenhagen, where he works as a window-dresser and has an obsessive attachment to Swarovski-crystal miniatures.

But family business cannot be avoided forever. When the Neshov matriarch, octogenarian Anna, suffers a stroke, a reunion follows and upheaval accumulates. The first of a series of shocking revelations comes in the form of Tor's grown-up daughter Torunn, a young woman who has never, to date, met her uncles or her grandparents.

The spare, beautiful scenery of northern Norway provides an apposite backdrop for the interactions of these estranged kin. Ragde's writing is self-effacing and subtly crafted, an ideal tool for splintering the brothers' stout outer panelling of Norwegian wood to expose the steamy saunas of turmoil within. The novel's subtext is plain enough: no one can avoid self-definition through family, however strenuously they might attempt to deny family ties. The straightforward message does not detract from Ragde's sophisticated exposition, not least because – woven around the unveiling of family secrets – is an adroit, slyly comic exploration of the paradoxes of Norwegian identity.

Prominent among them is an urge to remain close to nature, restrained only by a dependence on the benefits of urban living. Then there are the ways in which clinging to an independent outlook can run the risk of lapsing into stolid insularity. And that most admirable national trait plays its due part in the novel's resolution: a passion for fairness and consensus.

Ragde is a prolific writer, and Berlin Poplars won Norway's prestigious Riksmal Prize. If her other work is equally engrossing, it is high time for more of it to be translated here.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum