Thoughts on New Books by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Michael Hughes

I’ve recently read a couple of new books and thought I’d cover both of them in one post. Both are multilayered, covering different stories and viewpoints, and they fit together fairly well.

I’m becoming more accustomed to reading crime. I enjoy it. Why Did You Lie by Yrsa Sigurdardottir thoroughly freaked me out. She begins with the culmination of four people’s stay in a remote Icelandic lighthouse. Two of them are in the water and one of them is stabbing another with a knife. What’s happening here? The novel has two other strands: a family back from their holiday has found that the American couple they have house-swapped with have been very inconsiderate and a policewoman is trying to hold down a job within her misogynistic unit and hoping that her husband, who has attempted suicide, comes out of his coma. We are also taken back in time, to see how the people on the lighthouse ended up in their situation.

Why Did You Lie is a seriously well-crafted crime novel. Sigurdardottir knows how to create a cliffhanger and she cranks the fear right up. There were some parts that didn’t seem as well thought out, however. For instance, the policewoman seems fairly detached, at first, from her husband ‘s attempted suicide. This husband was also her best friend and we don’t find out him being in hospital straight away. But, apart from a few little complaints, this was a book I got through quickly. I’d like to read more of Sigurdardottir’s work.

A book I enjoyed less was The Countenance Divine. It’s ambitious, taking place in four different eras: in 1999 when a computer programmer tries to fix the Millennium Bug; in 1888, in Jack the Ripper London; in 1777, when William Blake has a religious experience; and in 1666, when John Milton is finishing ‘Paradise Lost’. This book should appeal to fans of Cloud Atlas but, for me, there’s something missing. It’s all very Dead White Men doing Great Things and stopping the world ending, whereas Cloud Atlas was more about how different people experience their respective environments. I found The Countenance Divine to be fairly unsubtle and I just didn’t get on with it. One thing that attracted me to the book was a quote by Toby Litt, which said the book was like ‘a brilliant cross between David Mitchell and Hilary Mantel’ and I just don’t see where, apart from writing about the seventeenth century, this Mantel comparison comes from. Maybe I was expecting too much from this book. Perhaps it will appeal to you, though!

Thank you to BookBridgr for sending me both of these titles.