Novella a Day in May #20

The Murder of Halland – Pia Juul (2009, trans. Martin Aitken 2012, 189 pages)

This novella is published by Peirene Press who specialise in publishing contemporary European novellas, aimed to be read in one sitting. The Murder of Halland is part of their Small Epic series.

The story opens with a domestic scene, Bess and her partner Halland watching a detective series before he goes to bed and she returns to her study to continue her work as a successful novelist. By the third page however, she is woken by a man at the door claiming he is arresting her for the murder of her husband: Halland has been shot dead in the town square outside their flat.

“The wet cobbles glistened in the morning light. Normally, the square would be deserted. Now it was filling with people. Roses bloomed against the yellow and whitewashed walls.”

While The Murder of Halland could be classed as a crime novel, I think this is misleading.  The focus is not on finding out who killed Halland but rather the grief of Bess as she ricochets around the small town in confusion, discovering Halland wasn’t quite who she thought he was and wondering if she is grieving in the right way.

“I could see why Halland had hung up the picture. It was our first year together and we were happy. Anyone could see that. At least I could, now. Halland’s hair had turned completely white during his illness, but here his long mane was dark and only just starting to turn in grey. I traced the sharp line of his nose with my finger, his full mouth. He was looking at me, saying something. What did we say to each other in those days? What did we ever say? I couldn’t remember us talking. Did we even say good morning? Yes, we said good morning.”

Bess’ detached narration makes The Murder of Halland an unsettling read. We know it was not a happy relationship, but we don’t know exactly why. We don’t know in what way Halland was ill. All Bess’ relationships seem to occur at a step removed: she has tense phone calls with her mother, a half-hearted reconciliation with her grandfather, an estranged daughter who arrives back in her life but they don’t explore what this means for either of them…

This strange detachment meant that I started to doubt Bess’ reliability as a narrator. When I read crime fiction it’s weirdly, for comfort, partly because I stick to Golden Age, and partly for all the ends to be tied up nice and neatly.  The Murder of Halland is not this type of novel. It leaves the reader with many more questions than answers, most of all through it’s “WHAT????” ending . Surprisingly, I didn’t think this made for an unsatisfactory read. The Murder of Halland is an intriguing character study at a moment of crisis, as complicated and unresolved as life itself.

15 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May #20

  1. I read this a couple of years ago, and although I usually stick to Golden Age crime too, I rather enjoyed it. It is unsettling and very atmospheric I felt. I am sitting here now struggling to remember the ending though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like the way this book pushes back against the reader’s usual expectations of a crime novel. As you say, it’s a character study of a woman at a time of crisis – that summaries it perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked the sound of this book, bought it, added it to my shleves then forgot about it. Read another review, liked the sound of it, bought it, and added it to my shelves only then finding the first copy – and I still haven’t read it. Perhaps it’s time to move it up the pile!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! I’m glad I’m not the only one who buys books they already own 😀 I’ve organised my TBR now and donated the duplicates to the charity shop – I’m hoping the book-buying ban this year helps keep things under control (it won’t).

      I think the duplication is definitely a sign you should move it up the pile 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know! I think it’s working for them – they publish a lot and seem to be making money. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read by them. I’ve not read The Mussel Feast, I’ll look forward to hearing what you make of it.

      Lisa from ANZ Lit Lovers told me about Giramondo Publishing in Australia who have a series called Giramondo Shorts – they now do a series called Southern Latitudes which is novellas from the southern hemisphere. I fear for my TBR once my book-buying ban is over…


    • Hooray! I hope you enjoy it!

      Novellas are a great way to kid yourself that you are rocketing through the TBR, even when you know the number of pages read is the same whether in a huge tome or a quick read! I’m finding my psychological delusion quite satisfying 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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