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You're Mine Now, By Hans Koppel, translated by Kari Dickso, book review: Tension abounds in this grim instalment of Nordic noir
Wednesday 22 January 2014
The novelist Ann Cleeves may be a keen aficionado of Nordic noir, but she recently expressed qualms over the endemic levels of sexual violence in the genre. Had she just read Hans Koppel? His last book, She's Never Coming Back, made the most excoriating work in the genre look as cosy as an episode of Call the Midwife.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the book was the ritual sexual debasement and torture visited upon the luckless heroine, kept captive in a house where she could still see her distraught, unknowing family, and moving towards (spoiler alert) quite the most dispiriting, downbeat ending.
It was, nevertheless, a highly professional piece of work, but alienated several critics with its overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Those readers may be reluctant to pick up Koppel's new book, You're Mine Now, but are they doing themselves a disservice? After all, thrillers are meant to unsettle, and Koppel is undoubtedly a master of setting the nerves on edge.
Magnus and Anna enjoy a companionable marriage, but then Anna unwisely has an affair with a colleague, Eric, she encounters at a conference, with disastrous consequences. Eric is attentive and flattering, but then Anna discovers that he has been filming her in the shower and decides to end the affair. She finds – inevitably – that she has opened the gates to something very sinister indeed. Eric's attentions become ever more threatening and Anna begins to fear for her life. Her quandary is whether or not to tell her husband – or to find a decisive way to handle Eric while keeping her secrets.
As with the last book, Koppel is highly adroit at focusing on his principal narrative engine; once again we have a woman under threat – not, this time, a captive, but just as much the victim of a truly dangerous man (he has strangled his own mother). And as before, there is an internationalist setting largely devoid of local colour – the narrative could take place in any major city. Koppel is interested in screwing the tension ever tighter, and in sinewy prose (as translated by Kari Dickson), he orchestrates that tension with authority.
Those who disliked the negativity of the last book will be relieved to hear that the heroine here is better able to fight back against an appalling male predator. What is perhaps most interesting about Koppel is the truly dyspeptic view he has of his own sex – a collaboration between Andrea Dworkin and Marilyn French could not produce more cutting invective against the male gender.
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