Review: The Cold Song

The Cold Song, Linn Ullman


Published April 8 2014, by Other Press

328 pgs



From Goodreads…

Ullmann’s characters are complex and paradoxical: neither fully guilty nor fully innocent

Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner, is married to Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist plagued by writer’s block. Siri and Jon have two daughters, and together they spend their summers on the coast of Norway, in a mansion belonging to Jenny Brodal, Siri’s stylish and unforgiving mother.

Siri and Jon’s marriage is loving but difficult, and troubled by painful secrets. They have a strained relationship with their elder daughter, Alma, who struggles to find her place in the family constellation. When Milla is hired as a nanny to allow Siri to work her long hours at the restaurant and Jon to supposedly meet the deadline on his book, life in the idyllic summer community takes a dire turn. One rainy July night, Milla disappears without a trace. After her remains are discovered and a suspect is identified, everyone who had any connection with her feels implicated in her tragedy and haunted by what they could have done to prevent it.

The Cold Song is a story about telling stories and about how life is continually invented and reinvented.

I just finished The Cold Song and I really don’t know what to say about it.  This book was intense and it made me feel tense while reading it.  From the goodreads description we know that Milla the nanny disappears and is killed, but I was expecting the plot to lead up that happening.  This is not the case, Milla’s death happens very early in the book and we even learn who the accused right away, but then we begin to flash back and forth in time.  This book is definitely not a mystery, but a story of a family that was ruptured before Milla’s disappearance and then tries to move forward after.

There were things about each of the characters that honestly made me shake my head and say WTF to myself throughout.  For example:

“Alma whispered so that nobody would hear her: ‘So Milla, what do you do when you go out at night?  Do you meet people you know?  Other kids your age?  Do boys come and see you here at Mailund after everyone’s asleep? Do you fuck them, one after the other?’

Alma, is I think age 11 at this point; so I ask you- WTF?  There are things like the above that seemed to be to be red flags about each character that aren’t delved into which was frustrating for me.  Why does she act like that?  Why is Jenny Brodal drinking after 25 years?  Why is Irma so odd?  I suppose if each character was studied in depth the book would be so long it would be unreadable, but I still wanted a bit more more.

I felt sad for this family because I think they were trying to be happy, despite their actions toward each other.  I was hopeful at the end that they were going to reinvent themselves going forward.

4 Stars

Thank you NetGalley and Other Press for this advanced read copy for review.


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