Monday, May 03, 2021

Review: The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson


Title: The Girl Who Died
Author: Ragnar Jonasson, translated by Victoria Cribb
Published: May 2021, Minotaur Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 320 pages
Source: Publisher

Teacher Wanted At the Edge of the World

Una wants nothing more than to teach, but she has been unable to secure steady employment in Reykjavík. Her savings are depleted, her love life is nonexistent, and she cannot face another winter staring at the four walls of her shabby apartment. Celebrating Christmas and ringing in 1986 in the remote fishing hamlet of Skálar seems like a small price to pay for a chance to earn some teaching credentials and get her life back on track.

But Skálar isn't just one of Iceland's most isolated villages, it is home to less than a dozen people. Una's only students are two girls aged seven and nine. Teaching them only occupies so many hours in a day and the few adults she interacts with are civil but distant. She only seems to connect with Thór, a man she shares an attraction with but who is determined to keep her at arm's length.

As darkness descends throughout the bleak winter, Una finds herself more often than not in her rented attic space - the site of a local legendary haunting - drinking her loneliness away. She is plagued by nightmares of a little girl in a white dress singing a lullaby. And when a sudden tragedy echoes an event long buried in Skálar's past, the villagers become even more guarded, leaving a suspicious Una seeking to uncover a shocking truth that's been kept secret for generations.


My thoughts:  I am a huge fan of Ragnar Jonasson's books, having loved both his Dark Iceland and Hidden Iceland series.  As soon as I heard he had a new book coming out, and a stand-alone at that, I knew I had to read it. It is one of my anticipated reads for this month and it absolutely delivers in every way - exactly what I expected from this author!

This is not a fast-paced book by any means, but rather a slow-burning, completely atmospheric read that totally captivated me from start to finish. Set in an isolated town, populated by only a handful of people, who are just downright strange, you just feel the eeriness ooze off the page. Right away, you just get a sense of foreboding and that never really lets up.

I loved that this book is set in the 1980's where technology does not come into play. It really helps reinforce the simplicity of the times, especially in this isolated village. And that worked for a village that relied on keeping their secrets hidden. You really feel just how isolated this town is and how isolated Una becomes within this village - an outsider who is seen as untrustworthy.

I loved that there were two narratives. We have Una's story and than a story of what appears to be an unrelated crime committed at some point. It isn't clear who the narrator is of this other narrative or how it will tie back to Una's story and that kept me totally intrigued as I tried to work out where it was all going. Slowly we get bits and pieces and it completely shocked me how it all tied in together.

This is definitely a binge-worthy type of read, one that I found myself devouring in two sittings as I just could not put it down. My favorite part is how skillfully the author uses the Icelandic landscape and weather as part of the story. The extreme darkness really just adds to the overall sense of unease, and that, along with the ghost story, really makes this quite the suspenseful, atmospheric read.

Nordic Noir is one of my favorite genres and Ragnar Jonasson really has a talent for giving us that perfect balance of atmosphere, mystery and suspense. This one has it all, with an added bonus of some supernatural elements thrown in. It's a bit different than his previous books, but I still loved it just the same and definitely recommend picking this one up! 



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