Cold or cool?

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
by Vendela Vida

I picked this book up due to a combination of hearing that Vida was one of the new generation of young “now” writers I should pay attention to (according to GQ or some magazine like that) and thinking the title was brilliant. Now that I’ve read it I stand by both statements.

There is a certain “coolness” about Vida’s writing; it’s hard to describe. She’s both a step back from the action and yet lets you right inside the main character’s mind. It’s detached but still emotionally affecting. The detachment is backed up by the literal cold of the Lapland setting, and in that respect reminded me a little of Snow by Orhan Pamuk (which I loved).

Clarissa was 14 when her mother disappeared. Now aged 28, following the death of her father, she decides to go to Lapland to follow a hunch about the whereabouts of her mother. She leaves suddenly, without telling anyone, even her fiance, where she is going. The combination of grief for her father and the complete strangeness of Finland give her a strange basis for an adventure, one that is bound up in unearthing family secrets and bringing to the surface secrets of her own.

The writing is very easy to get on with, although it deals with some dark subjects, but it did take me a while to get used to the detached style and a little longer to warm to the character of Clarissa. She carries such sadness and her story is beautifully told, with flashes of humour and a heartbreaking sense of finality.

The one thing I struggled with is that I felt this ought to have been a book about a woman striking out alone, discovering inner strength, and instead she turns again and again to men for help. There was a hint that this was just Finnish culture, and had there been women around offering help she’d have gladly taken it, but it still grated a little.

Overall I greatly enjoyed the story. Some aspects were predictable, others completely unexpected. I already have another of Vida’s books in my TBR and I don’t think I’ll be leaving it on the shelf for long.

First published in the USA by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, in 2007.