Lost in Translation?

Ever since my experience with Stieg Larsson’s work of genius, I’ve been subconsciously seeking out Scandinavian writers, for their unique voices in crime fiction– even more so because I like seeing the word ‘flat’ being used in place of apartment.

Jokes apart, The Son by Jo Nesbø left me extremely disappointed, and I am at a loss to understand whether the fault lies in translating from Norwegian, or if it’s simply a product of lazy writing:

‘Everything about him was solid, solid and chiselled: his head, arms, hands, calves. High forehead, solid chin, full lips.’

‘He knew that he shouldn’t, that he was already drunk. But he didn’t give a toss, after all he was a grieving widower. Still, he knew drinking was exactly what he shouldn’t be doing. He might end up saying something he would later regret.’

Last I checked, there are at least half-a-dozen synonyms for ‘solid’, and far less redundant ways to describe a character’s stress levels under the influence of alcohol. For a book that boasts over 25 million copies sold worldwide, I’d at least expect the editors to have weeded out typographical errors. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

The success of any work of fiction is in its ability to create a suspension of disbelief, and its defeat lies in the development of skepticism in the audience. Ten pages in, The Son had me questioning the supernatural abilities of the protagonist in escaping his predicament: Sunny Lofthus has been seduced by drugs to take the fall for crimes he didn’t commit, since his late teens. However, after learning the truth about his father’s suicide, he goes cold turkey after fourteen years and breaks out of what is described as an impenetrable prison. With not a dime to his name and a CD Walkman in his pocket, he takes down every known associate of The Twin, a modern-day Don Corleone who was responsible for his father’s death and who, up until now, has had Norway in the palm of his hand.

The Son’s redeeming qualities lie in the fact that Nesbø has created distinctly unique characters– a Chief Inspector with obvious vices who loves his wife dearly, his young career-driven associate who’s clocking in hours before making a move up the ranks, and the socially conscious caretaker of the residential centre, who provides the role of Sonny’s love interest. I am intrigued by their pasts and their starkly different motivations. Throughout the book, Sonny’s story is told through the eyes of the people he encounters on his journey, which also makes for very interesting storytelling.

Overall, The Son just left me offended at the low standards of writing that the publishing world seems to function on. I doubt I’ll be picking up another Nesbø anytime soon.


Title: The Son

Author: Jo Nesbø

Genre: Crime Fiction

Year: 2014

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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