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Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner, is married to Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist plagued by writer’s block. Siri and Jon have two daughters, and together they spend their summers on the coast of Norway, in a mansion belonging to Jenny Brodal, Siri’s stylish and unforgiving mother.
Siri and Jon’s marriage is loving but difficult, and troubled by painful secrets. They have a strained relationship with their elder daughter, Alma, who struggles to find her place in the family constellation. When Milla is hired as a nanny to allow Siri to work her long hours at the restaurant and Jon to supposedly meet the deadline on his book, life in the idyllic summer community takes a dire turn. One rainy July night, Milla disappears without a trace. After her remains are discovered and a suspect is identified, everyone who had any connection with her feels implicated in her tragedy and haunted by what they could have done to prevent it.
The Cold Song is a story about telling stories and about how life is continually invented and reinvented.
“In The Cold Song, Linn Ullmann explores the events surrounding a young woman’s murder in brief, haunting flashes that imbue the intimacies and betrayals of family life with the brooding magic of a Grimm’s fairy tale. This delicate, mesmerizing work attests to Ullmann's vast storytelling powers.” —Jennifer Egan, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award
“The Cold Song is a wonderful book, like a family album made by a photographer who really cares for his subjects. I love the way Ullmann deals with time and perspective. Her complete freedom to jump from one character to the next and back and forth in time holds the book together as one big picture of a somehow dysfunctional and still completely normal family—a family I loved to spend time with. I admire her ability to slip into the characters of men, women, and children with ease and make them completely believable—the philandering Jon is a masterpiece. The book has the light but also the weight of a Bergman film. It doesn't offer easy solutions but still has a kind of healing power." —Peter Stamm, finalist for the Man Booker International Prize 2013 and author of We’re Flying and Seven Years
“Ullmann’s voice on the page is a lean, tough-minded thing, scrubbed and scoured of sentimentality straight through to the final, Carveresque pages, in which she pulls off an 11th- hour radiance, a tonal shift from minor to major key. The novel’s charm lies in these idiosyncratic glints, these glimmers of queer wit, uncensored scorn or sudden, unstinting sympathy.” –The New York Times Book Review
"The fifth novel by an award-winning Norwegian author and critic deserves to win her a much larger stateside readership. The latest and best from Ullmann (A Blessed Child, 2008, etc.) resists categorization, except as a literary page-turner. It's a murder mystery. It's a multigenerational psychodrama of a dysfunctional family. And it's a very dark comedy of manners. Yet the authors command is such that it never reads like a pastiche or suffers from jarring shifts of tone." —Kirkus (Starred Review)
"Intriguing...Ullmann teeters between dark comedy of manners and genuine psychological thriller, but she consistently captures the telling moments in everyday encounters, and writes seductively complex characters." –Publishers Weekly
“Ullmann’s rural Norway is an unfussy place, eloquent for its starkness, much like the spare language she paints it with. Her stage is less about physical place than mood and one’s place in the familial symmetry. While much happens in this novel, the events feel secondary. The prose is taut, yet the pace is languid as summer in that before-the-storm tension…The real achievement of this novel is Ullmann’s gift to imbue the tension of a thriller via the unease of the mundane…Yes, a murder occurs, but The Cold Song is more a mystery in the way most families tend to be mysteries unto themselves.” –Minneapolis Star Tribune