‘TEACHER WANTED ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD . . .’
After her father’s sudden, tragic suicide, Una spends her nights drinking alone in Reykjavik, stricken with thoughts that she might one day follow in his footsteps.
So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in the tiny village of Skálar – population of ten – on the storm-battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.
But once she arrives, Una quickly realises nothing in city life has prepared her for this. The villagers are unfriendly. The weather is bleak. And, from the creaky attic bedroom of the old house where she’s living, she’s convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.
Una worries that she’s losing her mind.
And then, just before midwinter, a young girl from the village is found dead. Now there are only nine villagers left.
And Una fears that one of them has blood on their hands . . .
I have enjoyed several Ragnar Jónasson books and so when I got a chance* to read his latest The Girl Who Died I was delighted. What I didn’t expect was that this is not just the usual wonderfully atmospheric story from Jónasson but one with a leaning towards the supernatural. This standalone book brings us just that with ghostly visits and scary dreams. I wasn’t sure this was going to be my kind of read but I was soon taken up with the story and wondering what was in store.
Una is financially strapped and unhappy with her life. There is an underlying thought that this has been the case for quite some time. It has something to do with her Father and his death but we know nothing more than that. When a friend shows Una, a teacher, an advert for a job in a very remote northern village called Skálar after some thought she applies and gets the job. It is initially for the winter term. She will miss her mother, who is now remarried, and her friend but it’s not permanent. Her mum will oversee the rental of her flat so her mortgage and such will be covered. Living so remotely may also help her build up some savings. Things seem to be turning quite positive.
After a long journey Una arrives at Skálar which seems even more remote than she thought. The job entails teaching two children, it’s a very small village of only ten people. She finds the house where she is to stay. There is a small, self-contained ‘flat’ in the attic of the house which will be her home for the next few months. The house is owned by Salka who is the mother of one of Una’s new pupils Edda.
From here on in some rather spooky things happen. Una dreams of a girl, hears her singing a lullaby and if that isn’t enough soon realises that the villagers are unfriendly with most not wanting her in the village at all. Una turns to drinking a little more than may be good for her. However, although the two girls are quite different in their character, the teaching itself seems to go all right. Una is told that she is to be in charge of the Christmas Eve concert to take place in the village church. One of the villagers offers support with the concert, which Una accepts, but the evening will end tragically.
The story is seen by enlarge through Una’s eyes and so we are drawn into her thoughts, observations and fears. I did not find her to be particularly likeable. In fact there are few, if any, really likeable characters in the story.
Another storyline in which a killing takes place (this is more like it!) and a woman who, it appears, has been coerced by the police into a false confession for murder is threaded through the main story.
Ragnor Jónasson has written a compelling, taut, atmospheric book which immerses you in Una’s search to find out who the girl in her dreams is and what happened to her. As this storyline unfolds Una, who becomes quite taken with Thór one of the villagers who is at least a friendly face, finds things are not exactly as they seem in the village.
Guffi is the ‘boss’ of the village, he owns the fishing company upon which almost all the villagers are reliant on for an income. He is openly hostile and quite threatening in his behaviour to Una when they meet.
As this almost suffocating story progresses it is impossible to put down. What is happening in the village the remoteness, the cold and the hostility bring a real ‘closed room’ and oppressive feeling to the book. The other storyline weaves through all this which brings intrigue and an even greater sense of danger.
Jónasson is a wonderful writer and this book is no exception. He weaves it’s sad, haunted and murderous themes into a very neat ending which sees justice served up in a rather different way.
I did indeed enjoy The Girl Who Died and would recommend to those who like their crime fiction with plenty of atmosphere and tension in anticipation of what is about to happen.
Translation by Victoria Cribb’s – excellent.
Well that’s my first read done! Next up will be Fragile by Sarah Hilary. You can find out all you need to know about this challenge at Cathy’s 746Books and lot’s of other great book stuff. My list for this year’s challenge is on my blog if you’d like to check it out.
Author: Ragnar Jónasson is an international number one bestselling author who has sold over two million books in thirty-two countries worldwide. He was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he also works as an investment banker and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and, from the age of seventeen, has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s novels. His critically acclaimed international bestseller The Darkness is soon to be a major TV series.
Fölsk nóta, 2009 – Ari Thor Prequel
Snjóblinda, 2010 (Snowblind) – Dark Iceland book no. 1
Myrknætti, 2011 (Blackout) – Dark Iceland book no. 2
Rof, 2012 (Rupture) – Dark Iceland book no. 3
Andköf, 2013 (Whiteout) – Dark Iceland book no. 4
Náttblinda, 2014 (Nightblind) – Dark Iceland book no. 5
Dimma, 2015 (The Darkness) – Hulda book no. 1
Drungi, 2016 (The Island) – Hulda book no. 2
Mistur, 2017 (The Mist) – Hulda book no. 3
Þorpið, 2018 (The Girl who Died) – standalone novel
Hvíti dauði, 2019 (White Death) – Helgi book no. 1
Vetrarmein, 2020 (Winterkill) – Dark Iceland book no. 6
Published 10 June 2021 – The Girl Who Died
Next: Úti, 2021 (Outside) – standalone novel
Translator: Victoria Cribb studied and worked in Iceland for many years. She has translated more than 30 novels from the Icelandic and, in 2017, she received the Orðstír honorary translation award for services to Icelandic literature.
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