Erik Valeur: Det syvende barn (review)

det-syvende-barnSo Det syvende barn (english title: The Seventh Child) was published in 2011 and became one of the year’s most praised books in Denmark. It won awards and everyone read it. My mother read it, my mother in law read it and eventually, now it has become my turn.

Now what is it with hyped Danish things? It seems to me that every time a book or movie is really hyped in Denmark, it usually just disappoint me when I get around to it. This one – same old story. I was just so disappointed. But for different reasons than usual. This time, I am disappointed because the author really has a good story but he just hasn’t have the skills or experience as a debut author to pull this story off.

This is a story of deceit, adopted children and possibly a scandal that reaches the highest levels of Danish government. In 1961, 7 babies are placed together in the Elephant room at  the famous children’s home Kongslund. All these babies have been left, abandoned or put up for adoption for various reasons. 5 boys, 2 girls. Now 7 babies randomly placed together in a room at a children’s home, doesn’t seem like much of a story but somehow, these children are not so randomly chosen after all. 6 of these babies are adopted by various families but the last child, a girl, has a birth defect and so she stays at Kongslund and grows up as the daughter of the head mistress.

In 2008, these  children receive a letter containing a pair of baby socks, an old article with a photography of the 7 small children as well as some kind of certificate about one of the children, a boy called John Bjergstrand. Several of these children have reached high positions in society and this letter causes a lot of disturbing ripples to spread through the society in both the political circles and the media.

Questions start surfacing: Did the famous children’s home hide the children of famous men so they could have their affairs in secret? Why are these grown up children suddenly receiving this letter? And more importantly – who send it?

This is the story of these 7 children and what they have in common. It’s the story of the awe-inspirering head mistress of the children’s home, Magna. It’s about corruption, hidden scandals and men with too much power. It has an unreliable narrator so you don’t really know what’s going on. There’s murders, dead dogs and eyes falling out. But mostly it is about lost children. Children who wasn’t held and loved right when they were born but left alone in a dark room, waiting for someone to love them, to want them. This book should be so good. But sadly, it doesn’t live up it’s potential.

From very early one, the writing really annoyed me. It felt artificial, old-fashioned and stilted and it just felt really out of place with the story. Also, some of the scenes don’t work. And a lot of the plot hinges on the importance of this very special children’s home and I just don’t believe how an election can be won in 2005 because of a children’s home. Or that the story can cause so much trouble for some of the powerful men. And I never quite got why it took place in some kind of alternative version of Denmark where things are almost like they are in reality but not quite. Why not just let it be in the real Denmark? Oh and what’s with all the deaths? Why do people continue to be brutally killed in this book? It really makes no sense that these kids are not only connected by their stay at this children’s home but also by such violent deaths. Yes, I know they are somewhat damaged by their harsh way of starting life, but still. It gets to be a bit too much, a bit too unbelievable.

So what it comes down to is this. The book and it’s story had much potential but the author wasn’t able to pull it off. The language didn’t work for me and the plot was unrealistic in parts. Also it was a bit repetitive and there was a lot of foreshadowing. The author also has a tendency to take a step back and narrate and explain the action instead of letting it play out. And he definitely leaves no doubt about his political opinions. Oh, and on page 398, it is said that Aristotle is not a philosopher. Really?

Maybe it’s because Denmark is such a small country and Danish is a small language that we don’t produce that many good things. Or that the ones that get all the prizes, aren’t all that great when compared to the best works produced in bigger countries. It’s all about maths, really. If your country has 315 million people, of course there’s a bigger chance it’s going to produce something amazing than a country who has only 5 million…

But Peter Høeg, Karen Blixen, Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard are all from Denmark. So we have some things to be proud of. This book is not one of those things. But the author has potential and hopefully, his next book will be better.

  • Title: Det syvende barn (The Seventh Child)
  • Author: Erik Valeur
  • Publisher: Gyldendals Bogklubber
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 692 pages
  • Source: Borrowed from my mother in law
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

Top Ten Books At The TOP Of My Spring 2013 TBR list!

toptentuesday-1So I like keeping list of books I want to read soon. I often think about which book to read next so this week’s list of books I want to read this spring, was rather easy to put together.

As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. There are a lot of people participating, people reading all kinds of books, so if you check out some of the other blogs, beware of your to-read list – it might explode!

  1. Jonathan Safran Foer: Everything is Illuminated. I hadn’t planned to read this anytime soon but then I discovered that it’s the next group read for the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die group on Goodreads, beginning March 15. I read and loved Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close last year so I’m actually looking forward to this read.
  2. SJ Watson: Before I Go To Sleep. I have heard so much good about this book about a woman who is unable to remember her past or who she is – and who slowly starts to question if everything is right with her husband and with what he is telling her. It’s a debut novel and it sounds unputdownable!
  3. Amy Chua: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. So this book has gotten a lot of bad publicity but ever since I heard an interview with Amy Chua, I’ve wanted to read it.
  4. Félix J. Palma: The Map of Time. I don’t know quite how to describe this book. It sounds like a combination of a lot of different genres and just utterly engrossing and fascinating. Like a wild ride. It takes place in London in 1896, it’s about a man who has lost his lover to Jack the Ripper and a woman who struggles against the rules of Victorian society. And it involves H.G. Wells and some sort of machine that will change anything.
  5. Erik Valeur: Det syvende barn. (The Seventh Child.) 7 babies are born at the same hospital and are all placed at the same orphanage from which they are all adopted – without knowing their back ground. But they all receive an anonymous letter detailing their past and this sets events in motion. Both my mother and mother-in-law have read this and loved it and it has been rather popular in Denmark so here we go. I will read more books by Danish authors!!!
  6. Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus. Oh how I want to read this book. I actually want to read it so bad that I’m scared to do so and therefore, I keep pushing it back. I’m afraid that I have too high expectations and that they will ruin the book for me. But I want to read it and I will read it – and soon.
  7. Benjamin Hale: The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. An interspecies lovestory. Bruno is a chimpanzee who falls in love with his human teacher. I was dying to read this when it was published, bought it – and it has been gathering dust on the shelf ever since … Now’s the time!
  8. Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child. Everyone has read this, most seem to like it. It sounds like some sort of sad fairy tale and I have it home from the library and want to get to it to see what all the fuss is about – and if it is as good as people say it is.
  9. J.K. Rowling: The Casual Vacancy. Why haven’t I read Rowling’s new book yet? I bought it right after Christmas and I’m looking forward to reading it but somehow, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. When you liked the Harry Potter books, this is kind of a must-read and I really liked them so – another need to read soon. Maybe I’m a bit scared of this one not living up to my expectations too…
  10. Christos Tsiolkas: The Slap. This is another one I’ve been wanting to read for a while. A parent slaps someone else’s child and the repercussions are overwhelming. We had a case of that here in Denmark and the mother who slapped someone else’s child, was put in jail. I have felt the urge to slap kids if they are doing something to my girls, I can feel the lion mom come up in me, so even though I have never acted on this – and probably never will – I can see myself in this book.

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