Musk oxen will form a defensive, even self-sacrificial formation around their young should they sense danger. Though the protagonist of this novel isn’t much interested in these creatures, which she has ended up tracking through peaty Norwegian tundra, she can relate to this technique.
Since the death of her family, American writer Jane Ashland has found it impossible write or adapt to grief. After becoming “obsessed” with her Scandinavian genealogy, then alienating the long-lost family she visits in Norway, she contacts Ulf, a zoologist she met on the flight over, and ill-advisedly joins him on an expedition through inhospitable wasteland.
Nicolai Houm’s third novel is the Norwegian’s first to be translated into English. Powerful, symmetrical, and well-controlled, the story’s double narrative gradually reveals Jane to us even as she nominally disappears.
The book is most vivid when Jane lives most vividly, such as when, in a state of bliss having given birth to daughter Julie, she must adjust the hospital curtains “according to how much light her heart could hold”.