Friday, August 24, 2007

The Exception, by Christian Jungersen

W6 pal Jeffrey Frank has written a review of this terrific novel that pretty much covers anything I would have to say about it, except for one thing: its non-Americanness. Though it's a psychological thriller, which is a pretty familiar genre for an American reader, the differences between this Danish novel and a hypothetical American one about the same subject show how much of what we read is more or less formulaic. Even in much of our so-called literary fiction, characters are developed in a certain way, with a predictable mix of "sympathetic" and "flawed"; "plot points" are meted out at regular intervals; dialogue always serves the same functions, etc. A book like this one, which is in many ways very much like an American thriller (there are bad guys, and guns), is just different enough to draw attention to the staleness of some of our habits.

The novel's about four women who work at the Danish Center for Information on Genocide, whose workplace-persecution of each other reflects, and is possibly a result of, the subject of their work. As the relationships between the women become more and more strained, Jungersen includes articles on the psychology of evil written by one of them (all interesting). The novel is about the ways people deceive themselves and allow themselves to be cruel -- and it really is about that, working at the problem from different angles, examining it closely (how someone might rationalize snubbing a coworker) and from afar (why populations decide to wipe each other out).

Anyway, I'm interested to see how it fares here in the US. What will Americans think about a book that draws parallels between office bullying and genocide?

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