Book Review

The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir


Rating: ★★★★☆

It’s January 1974, and Aldís is working in juvenile detention centre Krókur Care Home in rural Iceland.  She doesn’t like the job or the owners, but it’s a roof over her head while she saves up enough money to move to Reykjavik, where she plans to embark upon a more exciting career.

Decades later, Ódinn is investigating whether there was any form of abuse suffered by the boys who were sent to Krókur.  His colleague, Róberta, began the investigation, but died suddenly, and now it has fallen to Ódinn to make sense of her notes.

But Ódinn has other problems, as his ex-wife also recently died, leaving him to look after his daughter alone.  And as his investigation progresses, he starts to find that events that took place at the centre may be related to the lives of his own family…

The Undesired begins, a little unusually, with the end, and it’s one of the more gripping prologues I’ve read.  In it, we see Ódinn and his daughter, Rún, in a car, suffocating in the exhaust fumes.  How did they get here?  Is it by accident or design?  These are just some of the questions that kept me reading to the end of the novel, desperate to find out how they had got into that situation.  And to find out if they survived it.  Following this strong opening, the novel is then a little slow to build momentum as it alternates between Ódinn in the present day and Aldís in the 70s.  It soon become more engaging, however, and I raced through the second half of the book.

I particularly enjoyed the sections that focused on Aldís, and I found her to be the more interesting of the two main characters.  I enjoyed her backstory – how she ended up working at the detention centre, her plans for the future – and I found her little acts of defiance against the owners Lilja and Veigar (who are generally quite mean and domineering) quite amusing.  That’s not to say that Ódinn’s sections were boring, just that for me, they didn’t quite grab my attention in quite the same way, and I didn’t find his character to be as well-developed as Aldís.  The alternating structure works well in this novel though, as the reader learns more about Krókur, it’s owners and the boys sent there whilst Ódinn is trying to work through his investigation.

If I have a little gripe with The Undesired, it’s that it doesn’t seem to know whether it’s a psychological thriller or a horror story.  It seemed to be trying to do both, but didn’t really succeed at either.  Overall, this is a novel with many twists, some of which I saw coming, and many that didn’t, and I loved how the two stories of Aldís and Ódinn became entwined by the end of the novel.

The Undesired was published in paperback by Hodder & Stoughton in June 2016.  Many thanks to Veronique Norton for providing a copy for review.

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