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The Cold Song Paperback – April 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Siri and Jon have always enjoyed their summers on the coast of Norway. Although staying with Siri’s domineering mother can be difficult, the couple has friends there, and the home holds special meaning from Siri’s childhood. That all changes the summer they hire Milla as nanny to their youngest daughter. Milla’s presence adds to the already growing distance between Siri and Jon and unlocks a restlessness in Siri. Then, on the night of a party no one wanted Siri to throw, Milla disappears. Throughout the ensuing search and subsequent murder investigation, the story flits through time, space, and narrators, clearly envisaging the turmoil of all those involved. In her fifth novel, Ullman demonstrates her expertise in inhabiting the minds of complex characters, including Milla’s grieving parents; a neighbor who may have been the last to see Milla alive; Siri’s aging mother; Siri’s elder daughter, who has a violent temper; and, of course, the beleaguered couple, Siri and Jon. Readers who appreciate an unconventional narrative flow will find this a deeply moving story of troubled relationships and unsettled memories. --Cortney Ophoff


New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2014

“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.” —New York Times Book Review

"Ullmann is very good at evoking the peculiar, charged stasis of a household in which mentally active and intellectually vital people are resolutely failing to communicate with each other—the loneliness of communality, in short. She is a very exact writer, who is unsparing of her characters: a tonic, sharp, lyrical, intelligent novelist who deserves to be better-known in English." —The New Yorker Page-Turner Blog

“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

Disturbingly tangled and riveting Norwegian fiction…Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song reads like a cross between a psychological thriller and a grim fairy tale, the kind that takes place in a big house haunted by angry parents, lonely children and secrets ranging from the ordinary to the catastrophic.” —More 

"[A] dark, lyrical novel with a firecracker of a a forceful, exquisite talent." —

"The fifth novel by an award-winning Norwegian author and critic deserves to win her a much larger stateside readership." —Kirkus Reviews (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

“A deeply moving story of troubled relationships and unsettled memories.” —

The Cold Song doesn't so much unfold as it revolves, around the sudden disappearance of Milla, the young and beautiful summer nanny hired to take care of Siri and Jon's two children. The real ‘meat’ of the novel rests in its keen and unflinching exposure of the inner lives of its characters, revealed in brief spurts of narrative that shift back and forth in time. The result is riveting.” —Bookpage 

"Ullmann deftly slips beneath the skin of her characters, depicting their wounds and worries in subtle gradations of tone and texture. The Cold Song remains a captivating, hybrid book." —

“In her latest heart-stopper, internationally bestselling author Ullmann, (who lives in Oslo), combines a mysterious murder with a razor-sharp eye for family relationships.” —Reader’s Digest

“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….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

The Cold Song recounts the unfolding of a large tragedy that has already happened—the mysterious disappearance of Milla, an adolescent girl—while also showing the smaller tragedy of a faltering marriage. Combining the tension of a whodunit with the subtlety of a domestic drama, Ullmann’s riveting novel is measured, impeccably observed, and utterly chilling.” —Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch

"The Cold Song is a fluid, shape-shifting novel, a family saga that turns into an erotically charged drama and then takes a darker turn into the terrain of a murder mystery. Linn Ullmann is an unusually talented and sympathetic writer, able to inhabit a wide range of characters and bring them all vividly to life.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Nine Inches: Stories and The Leftovers

“Contrary to popular belief, a death is not merely an end but the beginning of a story. The death in The Cold Song opens a Pandora’s box of human emotions, conflicts and deceptions. Readers of this novel will be reminded of the joys and complexities of living. Memories, laughter, gestures, trivialities—everything casts a shadow, and nothing leaves us safe. Linn Ullmann has mastered the art of seeing into the dark mysteries that make us who we are.” —Yiyun Li, award-winning author of The Vagrants and Kinder Than Solitude

“Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song is a haunting novel about all the ways we endeavor to love and be loved, and the many mistakes we can make while trying. It's suspenseful and beautifully written and so absorbing that I could not put it down. When I finished reading it, I remained in a state of awe.” —Vendela Vida, author of The Lovers and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

“[The Cold Song is] a psychological tour de force—not a beat wrong. The ending crept up on me, so quiet and unexpected. It’s a brilliant scene, with everybody locked in character—in the huit clos finality of character—and it hits you the minute you put the book down. I stayed up half last night finishing it, and now I’m sitting bleary-eyed at my desk, paying for the pleasure.” —Jane Kramer, author of Europeans and The Politics of Memory

The Cold Song is a superb psychological mystery and a must for anyone who enjoys the genre. The writing is excellent. The switches between the time of the murder, the discovery of the body, and subsequent developments are many, but they fit together seamlessly. Highly recommended.” —John A. Broussard, I Love A Mystery

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590516672
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590516676
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Jenny Brodal, dreading the celebration of her 75th birthday, pours herself a glass of red wine. She looks at the bottle of Cabernet, waits for some awareness in her body of the alcohol, and stops. She had never said she would not drink again. “She had taken one day at a time, one day at a time, and never, never, said never.” The opening pages in Linn Ullmann’s latest novel, THE COLD SONG, illustrate how meticulously she develops each character. In just a few sentences, she shows an aging matriarch facing a crisis and begins creating the tension necessary to write a family story.

Each member of Jenny’s family is introduced, layered with secrets and anger. Her daughter Siri married for passion but is betrayed over and over by Jon, who published two successful novels and pretends to work on the last piece of the trilogy. His writer’s block is so severe that he resorts to copying pages of Danish Literature: A Short Critical Survey so that his wife will hear the sound of his typing. Siri and Jon have two daughters, Alma and Liv. On a dare from other students, Alma cuts off the blonde plait of her 52-year-old teacher, and her pride keeps her from implicating the other kids. Her forced notes of apology are dark and irreverent, capturing exactly the stubborn honesty of a teenage girl. She is also scary.

Liv is younger and more tractable, and seems to enjoy the company of Milla, a young woman Siri and Jon hired as caretaker for the summer. Milla makes an impression on young boys, all of the other women, and middle-aged Jon, but disappears in July 2008, the night of Jenny’s birthday party. Her body is discovered two years later, and the novel reveals how each person who knew Milla reacts to her life and to her death.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By PattyLouise VINE VOICE on April 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The Cold Song
Linn Ullmann

My " in a nutshell" summary...

This book involves a dysfunctional family and an old mystery in a summer town in Norway. This family seems to be connected to their nanny's disappearance.

My thoughts after reading this book...

This book was a bit quirky though endlessly fascinating. Siri and Jon and Liv and Alma...quite an odd little family...Siri a chef with two restaurants...trying to support her family...Jon a writer who can't addition to cheating on Siri...and Alma...quite the weird child. She is friendless, a loner and even was expelled from school for chopping off her teacher's pigtail. In the summers they live in their grandmother's house. Siri runs a summer restaurant while Jon tries to unblock his writer's block. Milla is hired to watch their daughters but disappears during a party and is not found...until her grave is dug up by some young boys years later. I am not quite sure of the connection between Milla's attack and death...she was attacked by someone...but not killed by that person. It sort of all comes out in spurts that are sometimes hard to understand. It's one of those books where key parts are revealed bit by bit and sometimes when you least expect anything to be revealed something major is revealed.

What I loved about this book...

I had no clue at all about what happened to Milla until the very end.

What I did not love about this book...

I did not care about most of these characters. I thought many of them were weird. Jenny...Siri's mother...hasn't had a drink in 25 years and suddenly gets wasted at her birthday party...and I still don't truly get Irma...she seemed to be Jenny's live in friend?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ti on April 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Jon & Siri and their two young daughters return each summer to Siri’s childhood home, just south of Oslo. Mailund, the big white house, has been in the family for years and although not in perfect shape, gives them a break from their everyday existence. This time around, Jon has come to finish his novel. A task that seems impossible due to many things, but mainly the writer’s block that he regularly complains of. But there is a lot more going on. Jon’s affair with a woman down the street is what takes him out of the house on a regular basis, and even though he often tells his wife that he’s “walking the dog”, Siri is aware of his philandering ways and yet, doesn’t say anything to him, hoping that he’ll come to his senses.

That alone is enough material for a novel but The Cold Song does not stop there. Milla, a young girl hired to care for the children, becomes Jon’s obsession. Although their interactions are innocent enough, the tension is palpable whenever these two are in the room with one another. Milla, is also the focus of Alma, Jon and Siri’s twelve-year-old daughter. Alma seems to note the connection between Milla and her father right away, but Alma is not all there and has issues of her own to contend with. When Milla goes missing, the town is turned upside down trying to solve the mystery and Milla’s mother, Amanda, is convinced that Jon and Siri have something to do with her disappearance.

This is not a flashy, in your face, detective story or a story about a broken marriage. It’s a beautifully constructed story centered around flawed (VERY) flawed characters trying to find their place as the situations around them escalate out of control. These are not the types of friends that I’d like to have, ever, but man, did they make for some good reading.
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