Posted by: flexiblegoat | November 30, 2009

Broken by Karin Fossum

Broken

This intriguing, daring novel is marketed as crime fiction (by which I mean it looks and feels as if it belongs in that genre) and is written by one of Norway’s leading crime novelists, but though a pivotal crime is committed, it radically subverts all generic expectations. Broken sets its post-modern stall out early: the novel begins with a haunted, borderline-alcoholic author surveying a disparate group of sorry individuals queuing on her front lawn. That these are potential characters, the subjects of as yet but mooted stories, becomes clear when one of them enters her house in the night, sits by her bed and demands that he should be permitted to jump the queue. This framing device becomes an opportunity to meditate on the lonely, obsessive nature of the writer’s profession, the fundamental importance of characters as the prime movers behind stories and the almost schizophrenic bonds of empathy that authors form with them.

The “man” that forces his way in, forces the author to confront the story she has in mind for him, is a solitary, dependable, prudent repressed homosexual who revels in his job as an art gallery assistant and diligently saves his Krone despite the fact that he is convinced he will die, as his father did, in his fifties. He relishes and is skilled in conducting his professional interactions but never forms any social relationships because he is unwilling to engage beyond perfunctory pleasantries.

The author, who participates in a number of earnest discussions with her character about the nature of the novel he will inhabit, introduces two conflicting elements into his life that will force him to make the kind of decisions he has always shirked. The first is a painting of a broken or unfinished bridge that is on sale for the exact amount of money he has in his bank account; the second is a young heroin addict who he allows into the gallery to take shelter from the cold, contravening his employer’s express instructions to give such individuals short shrift.

The drama that unfolds is devastating in its pyschological plausibility, compelling in the ways in which it reveals the anatomny of a crime that is committed out of fear and intertia and the extent to which a person can undermine their values by attempting to do good in a situation where there can be no palatable outcome. The novel’s conclusion is genuinely moving and its sentimental edge is fully earned through the accumulation of minute, precise detail and Fossum’s willingness to eschew any sensationalism or monochrome oppositions of good and evil. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Vintage, £7.99.

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