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THE DAY IS DARK
by Yrsa Sigurđardóttir and Philip Roughton, trans.
Hodder & Stoughton, April 2012
432 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1444700103


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Opening with a prologue that sets the story down in the beautiful, ice-clad scenery of east Greenland, THE DAY IS DARK wraps the reader in gloomy menace from the start. The team of drillers working for Berg Technology is rife with bullying, and suffering from extreme isolation. Then Oddny Hildur, perhaps the most isolated of the team, goes out into the snow and isn't seen again. Two male engineers both vanish. A video nasty suggests that something went very wrong at the drilling station. None of this deters our heroine, Thora (described in the UK press as "the liveliest granny on the floes") from accepting a commission to go to Greenland and sort out the legal ramifications of the staff disappearances.

Thora is a lawyer. She takes her banker boyfriend, Matthew, and her unlikeable assistant, Bella. Quite why an armed police team isn't sent ahead, isn't made clear. This is the fourth book to feature Thora, so perhaps her credentials for dealing with this sort of thing are well-established. Once on the ground in Greenland, Thora's team soon becomes prey to the isolation and paranoia that dogged the previous inhabitants of the Berg Technology outpost. They are being observed, without knowing it, by the local Inuit, who have their own reasons for wanting the outsiders to leave the place. Meanwhile, Arnar Johannesson is recovering in hospital, suffering from a post-alcoholic derailment. His absence from the drilling site is feared to be sinister by Thora and her team. One of their number, Friorikka, is especially affected by the atmosphere, given to tears and hysteria even before the grisly discovery of bad meat in the freezer.

The story unfolds at a painstakingly slow pace as the team examine every angle of the drilling task and its consequences. Of more interest is the Inuit hunter's story, told in parallel and with real compassion. Arnar's story, also in parallel, is interesting too. But the constant moving between the three stories, with timelines overlapping, emphasises the impression that this book is overlong for its story. Sigurdardottir relies on exposition too often and too heavily, miring the plot in more prose than is needed to carry it through and threatening to lose the reader's interest before the story is properly underway. The stark opening section promised a more sinister denouement, as did the pervading sense of watchfulness. While there is some interesting exploration around the theme of masculinity (one of the male characters suffers for being gay, and the Inuit are struggling with customs of machismo), the twists and turns are few and far between, and the final revelation falls short, especially in light of the long journey the reader makes to get there.

§ Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author, currently working on a debut crime novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary, October 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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