In this slim novel, Danish author Juul’s first to be translated into English, the conceits of crime fiction frame a lonely woman’s disorienting struggle with loss and the treacheries of navigating emotional relationships.
When Halland Roe is murdered, inexplicably shot to death in a public square, Bess, his wife, finds herself in the unsettling position of being the first suspect. Although the novel begins with a murder and a shocking accusation, however, it quickly shifts its concerns from the solution of a crime to the way a traumatizing event can force a person to confront all the loneliness and unhappiness already in her life. A perfunctory investigation threads the novel together, but neither Bess nor the police seem urgently concerned with discovering the identity of Halland’s killer. Instead, Bess reflects on the isolation that afflicts even the most intimate relationships, the amount of unknown that wells up between estranged relatives or longtime lovers. She becomes fixated on reconnecting with her daughter from a previous marriage, her grief for her husband unexpectedly obliterated by the realization that she longs for her daughter even more. Readers should not look for a conventional crime story in this novel but should instead linger over its efficiently conveyed portraits of different kinds of grief and regret. Bess is a writer, a relatively well-known author of short stories, and her narration seems to play with the boundaries between telling a story and being part of one. The prose is clean and straightforward, sometimes brusque and distant, but also surprisingly effective in conveying the confusion and irrational desires that follow in the wake of extreme distress.