The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

the undesiredFalling between two stools…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

As the book begins, a man and his young daughter are in the last stages of asphyxiation from exhaust fumes in his car. How did they get there? Who has done this to them? The story takes the reader back into the past to answer these questions. Odinn’s life was turned upside down a few months previously when his ex-wife fell from a window and died, leaving him with the responsibility for his young daughter, Rún. Until then he had been a weekend father, fond of his daughter but leading the life of a single man. As part of his readjustment, he has taken a new job in the State Supervisory Agency, office-based and with regular hours. He has been given the task of preparing a report on a former residential home for boys to check whether there are likely to be any claims from former residents for compensation for abuse or ill-treatment. The book is split between his investigation and the story of what led to the home’s closure, following the death of two of the boys.

This is being billed as a horror novel and does have some aspects of horror, but in reality it’s more of a crime novel with psychological aspects. The horror consists of some unexplained shadows and the occasional bit of spooky giggling, and rarely sent any shivers down my spine. And it really doesn’t add anything to the basic story, leaving me to wonder why it’s in there at all.

The crime aspect is better. Back in the ’70s, the story is seen through the eyes of Aldis, a young girl employed at the home who develops a relationship with one of the older boys. The owners of the home have their own secrets and don’t treat either the boys or the staff well, though thankfully this isn’t yet another child abuse tale. Again, the reader knows from Odinn’s investigation in the present day that two of the boys die, so this part of the story, like the present day one, is more about finding out what led to their deaths. Sometimes knowing what’s going to happen works, but in this case I found that all this foreknowledge led to a serious lack of tension. There is still a mystery, which I won’t detail for fear of spoilers, and I was surprised by the ending, but for most of the book it feels like a fairly long plod to get to a destination we already know.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Usually I love Sigurdardottir’s books, so my disappointment with this one is partly to do with my high expectations. Although it didn’t quite meet those, there’s still plenty in it to enjoy. The characterisation is good, especially of Aldis, and the part about the home is well done, giving a good feeling of authenticity. Sigurdardottir’s writing is always readable and the translation, by Victoria Cribb, is excellent. The plot is intriguing despite the ending being known, and although it crosses the credibility line it held my interest for the most part.

I think the book is trying to do two things at the same time – have a realistic plot and be a spooky horror story – and as a result neither works as well as it would have alone. It also makes the book overlong. Had the spooky aspects been cut, the whole thing would have been much tighter and would, I feel, actually have achieved a higher level of tension. I’m sure that Sigurdardottir fans like myself will find enough in it to make it a worthwhile read, but it wouldn’t be one that I would necessarily recommend to newcomers to her work. Much better to start with her Thora Gudmundsdottir series.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.

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46 thoughts on “The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

  1. Like you, I’m a Yrsa Sigurðardóttir fan, FictionFan. I like her writing style and characters, and you’re right: she does give a really solid sense of place and context. But even in skilled hands, a book can’t be everything. I know what you mean about falling between two stools. That said, though, I will probably read this, just because I’m a fan. Oh, and folks, FictionFan is right. If you’re new to Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, you’re best off starting with the Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series.

    • I felt the spooky stuff slowed this one down and didn’t really make it scary enough to justify its inclusion. But even a less good book from Sigurdardottir is better than most of what’s out there. I definitely think there’s enough in there to make it worth reading – I really must try to read more of the Thora books soon…

  2. I’ve never read this author. With the horror and crime investigation genre blend, it’s almost like the author was going for urban paranormal without the requisite romance. Seems like an uneasy fit.

    • I felt she maybe wanted to write it as horror but felt her fans would be expecting crime. She’s a really good writer, but this wouldn’t be the one I would recommend to newcomers…

  3. Another one I’ve never read, FF. You did such a good job on the review, though, that I’m going to have to check it out some day — maybe after the holidays, when life settles down a bit?!

    • I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one as an introduction to her stuff. If you do decide to look at her at some point, better to start with her crime series – Last Rituals is the first. Ha! Does life ever settle down? 😉

  4. Another one I haven’t got around to, but I think I’ll take your advice and start with a Thora – I’ve had one on my Kindle for ages, but it’s never made it to the top.

    • I’ve only read one of them, though I’ve read some of her other stuff, but the Thora ones seem to be less inclined towards the spooky – though in the one I read there were some creepy bits in it. But her writing and characterisation is very good.

  5. Oh dear it’s a shame when a book doesn’t live up to expectations. I’m not a fan of spooky goings on anyway so probably not one for me although this is an author whose books I must try – I’ve just checked and Last Rituals is on the wishlist 😉

    • Yes, I probably had too high expectations, and I do seem to be finding a lot of books disappointing at the moment, so I suspect it’s at least partly me that’s the problem. As usual, I read one of the later ones first, so Last Rituals is on my wishlist too! 🙂

  6. I bet it almost feels as if they’re dying from exhaust throughout the entire book.

    Well, if I met her in person, I’d call her Y. See, I don’t have much hope with either the first or last name. Goodness. Or I could make up a nickname.

    • Yes, she is. Haha, I know! Though in general I find the ones written by women are a bit less horrid and more to my taste. Mind you, I’m reading another Icelandic one just now, by a male author, and so far so good…

  7. Ive been meaning to read something by this author for a while but may not start with this one then, not keen on ghostly giggling especially out of nowhere 😀

    • This wouldn’t be the one I’d recommend to start with, but her crime series with Thora Gudmundsdottir is very good – though even in them there’s sometimes a wee bit of spookiness… 🙂

  8. A book we have both read! I think the author only alluded to horror – a ploy to satisfy/engage readers I thought? Not really horror to my way of thinking but the ending…very evil…. The settings are great – grim and bleak – and that is just the office ! I haven’t read any others by this author but on your advice will lookout for the Thora series.

    • She always seems to have a touch of horror, even in the crime novels. Perhaps it’s an Icelandic thing – I believe the Nordic countries in general are much more into folklore and superstition than we are. But in this one I really didn’t feel the horror aspects added much. I do love her writing though… hope you enjoy the Thora books! 🙂

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