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The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning Paperback – January 24, 2012
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"A sensational book. Hallgrimur Helgason's brain is like this amazing app that morphs the English language into gorgeously blunt new forms. It delivers surprise after surprise and makes you feel good about books again. I can't recommend it enough." --Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X
"If you read this I predict [Helgason]’ll be in your mind to stay.” -- DBC Pierre, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Vernon God Little
“[Helgason is] uproarious, sharp, and outrageously funny.”-- Kirkus Reviews
“[Helgason’s writing is] intelligent, unexpected and beguiling.” –-The Guardian
About the Author
Hallgrimur Helgason was born in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1959. He started out as an artist, showing his work in several galleries of both New York and Paris, where he lived in the late eighties and early nineties. He made his debut as a novelist in 1990 and gained international attention with his third novel, 101 Reykjavik (“Imagine if Henry Miller had written Tropic of Cancer on crack instead of wine.”-Tim Sandlin), which was made into a film starring Victoria Abril. In 2001 Helgason received the Icelandic Literary Prize for The Author of Iceland. He has twice been nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, with 101 Reykjavik in 1999, and Stormland in 2007. A film based on the latter was released in early 2011. The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning is his only novel written in English. It was published in Iceland in 2008, in the author’s own translation, and became a bestseller in Germany in 2010. A father of three, Hallgrimur divides his time between Reykjavik and Hrísey Island.
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UPDATE - A year later and I'm still hoping Doc shows up in the Delorean to take me back to the time I put into this book...GREAT SCOTT!!!
On this fairly Well worn premise, Icelandic born Hallgrimur Helgason will build a slick, dark, driving narrative. Dark is probably the most important word here. To say the humor in this book is black is to say the far side of the moon is not recommended for the growth of sunflowers. Just as "Toxic" had to assume different identities to survive we will watch him detail his many past lives even as he strips them off on his way to redemption. This may sound like a spoiler, but the details and the unexpected turns are well paced to keep your attention.
As I said dark humor is too light of the term. At some point what some might consider macabre becomes horrific. The genesis of Toxic will take you to some of the worst of the recent Balkans war and consist of perhaps too many casual discussions of imposed death. The intent may be to push your incredulity over the top but some will be turned off by the casual narration of mayhem.
Given all of this how can I recommend this book? Hallgrimur Helgason is a good writer. His use of language, his pacing of major events, and his refusal to keep his straightforward plot fully predictable makes this a good read. (Possible spoiler alert) Reading this in the Kindle edition means that you will find the abrupt ending that much more surprising. In hard copy you would realize you were running out of pages. In the Kindle edition you simply run out of text. The implication of this statement is that the author succeeds in writing a story that will leave you wanting at least a little bit more. In defense of the author's morbid recounting of certain events, I remind you that the Baltic war unfolded in front of the West with most of the world doing too little and that too late to mitigate the soul crushing effects of this fratricidal war. That being said, if the only thing in this book that offends you is the generous use of the so-called F bomb and the casual sex you may want to use this book to question your value system.
I suppose The Hitman's Guide to Housekeeping, is generally considered a crime drama. I suggest it should leave you thinking. The quality of the writing will keep you reading.
Once he is dressed in the dead man's clothing, he rushes to catch the plane his victim would have been on. He finds that his last HIT was a Priest. Being of an Iffy Catholic Background, this causes him some anxiety and we learn of his childhood, his fears, and his worst unforgivable killing while he was a Serbian Soldier. It troubles him, but not for long. He is mostly concerned about saving his own skin. Our hero finds he is on a plane to Iceland, and plans to land in that country, then hotfoot it to a plane for Europe, lay low for a while, then return to his New York Girlfriend and Hit Man Career in that fantastic city of his dreams when things have cooled.
But, as in most well laid plans, this one goes awry and once in Iceland, he stays in Iceland.
The author is very gifted at setting up scenarios and happenings that MIGHT happen to any transcontinental traveler with an uneasy conscience. The books seems believeable because we have seen enough movies about people who have traveled across the world and 1. forgotten a child 2. their luggage 3. a spouse. or a 4. passport. Also we have seen real people, most notably our government leaders, who have treked around the world with 1. their mistresses 2. our governments enemies 3. stacks of cash 4. someone else's passport. During a saner time, we were taught to "suspend our disbelief" in order to be taken in by the shenanigans seen in plays and movies, the plots of books we read, or even gossip about "how others lived." No more. We are totally jaded. We have seen our president slide by an impeachment becase of his definition of "is." We watched another President twiddle his thumbs while our embassy ambassadors were murdered. We watched that on television. Another presidential candidate had an affair and fathered a child while on campaign. The list of things lesser folk have done would curl the hair and toes of my parents and grandparents. We are so accustomed to weird and evil goings on that we will believe anything because we have already seen everything! So, as our hit mat takes on Iceland, nothing that happens raises an eyebrow.
In Fact, we are stunned because of the lack of action. Our New Priest finds that his hosts are a born again Christian Couple who have a very small flock of followers in this strange land. They address this flock on their own TV program which has none of the flair of American Televangelists. The hit man finds the scenery boring, the social activities boring, and the lack of crime flusters him. He cannot even find a place to purchase a gun. Hookers are legal; guns are not; and the crime rate is near 0%. How is a hit man to make a living?
Of course, the his stumble bum Christian hosts have a very hot daughter who does not follow their spiritual landmarks. She has a boyfriend, hot pants and an alternate living space. And eventually, the American feds follow the trail of the man who killed a priest so he could borrow his clothing. And the illegal guys who would like him dead find him too. What is a con man to do in a nice Icelandic Society?
The author keeps the character hopping and, of course, makes him likeable. We do not want those in pursuit to "get" him.
This novel is basically a bit of fluff, but it is readable, and the theme is one some of us can follow...bad guy remembers his roots and comes to Christ. There is no why to this. There is no great moral exposed. It is not strong enough to make many quake and see the light. A PILGRIMS PROGRESS it is not.
But it is a fun read and a good evening's entertainment. I read it in one sitting. In any setting besides our crazy, upside down world, it would be totally unbelievable. But, our world is crazy, most live by their own rules, our leaders have lost their character and fail to lead, we are currently squabbling about our right to own a gun. It is a crazy world. This book is just as crazy, but we read on to find out if he gets the girl, mollifies those who let him be their guest, outruns the cops, makes mincemeat of the bad guys, gets a job, and finally, finds God.
This is not great literature, but potentially has a sound moral resolve! I bought it because it reminded me of a very good movie about a man who was a Cleaner by profession; that is, he took care of the dead body and Cleaned up the site where a mob hit had taken place. Due to the vagaries of our child Social Servies System, he suddenly found himself as the sole care giver of his daugther who was 8 or 9. That tale was high adventure with the daughter learning about and coming to terms with her father's profession. But to make the move good, the child took on the role of saving her father and herself from the people who would like to "Clean the Cleaner." That movie was set in a New York Walk Up Apartment and was fast paced and hair raising from beginning to end. I expected this book to be similar. But it was not; in fact, it is so based in the hard to belive that I give it 4 Stars. It is just not good enough for 5, but will keep you entertained for an evening...if that is what you are looking for...then this is the book for you.
I really loved Toxic's voice, and the varied experiences he describes. The wordplay was really impressive.
The story left me a little cold, but that's ok. The voice is fabulous:
~Only when you’ve had some fifty warless years do you start worrying about things like air quality in bars.~
~Icelandic names are like Scud missiles . Their trails linger in the air long after they’ve reached their target.~
~I take off my coat, hat, and scarf, and start emptying the ashtrays and picking up clothes. In forty minutes’ time, the place looks like it could be photographed for The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning.~
Read if: You like meandering stories with tons of local color and interesting narrators.
Skip if: You are not interested in nihilistic meditations on war and assassination and women and religion.
Most recent customer reviews
at the beginning, the narration, full of metaphors and slang is funny, but in the long run is quite...Read more