I REMEMBER YOU by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Minotaur Books; 3/25/14
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: goosebump-inducing horror from Iceland’s Queen of Crime
Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a just-plain-incredible talent. Sigurdardottir is known as Iceland’s Queen of Crime, and every single book of hers that I read reinforces just how well-deserved this title really is. A hallmark of Yrsa’s crime writing is her ability to blend strong mystery writing with truly dark, almost horror-inspired plotlines—and in I REMEMBER YOU, she puts her dark imagination on full display. I REMEMBER YOU is, in fact, better described as a ghost story than a crime novel, though at its heart it certainly has a compelling mystery for readers to unravel. In this hair-raising story of suspense, a group of friends set out to a remote Icelandic village in order to renovate a house they have recently purchased. But as they settle in and begin their work, it becomes clear that something on the island doesn’t want them to stay... I REMEMBER YOU is slow-burning, immersive, utterly chilling suspense—I was glued to this book from the first page to the last. You know that feeling when you’re loving a book so much, you just want to savor every single page? That was me with I REMEMBER YOU.
In this terrifying tale, three friends set to work renovating a rundown house in a remote, totally isolated location. But they soon realize they are not as alone as they thought. Something wants them to leave. Meanwhile, in a nearby town, a young doctor investigating the suicide of an elderly woman discovers that she was obsessed with his vanished son. When the two stories collide, the shocking truth becomes horribly clear.
Let’s begin with the question I’m sure will be on many a reader’s mind: if this is a ghost story, does that mean it has supernatural elements? Yes, it does—but don’t write it off just yet! If you’ve been around Crime by the Book for a while, you’ll know that I tend to be wary of thrillers that lean towards the supernatural… and you’ll also know that I consistently find Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s use of the supernatural the most authentic and downright entertaining around. I REMEMBER YOU is her most supernatural-heavy book that I’ve read yet (coming in second place: THE UNDESIRED), but I truly never for a moment wished away this story’s haunted and haunting mystery. In I REMEMBER YOU, Sigurdardottir explores the history of an isolated Icelandic village through the lens of three newcomers: city dwellers who buy a run-down home in the isolated village, with plans to renovate it and turn it into a summer guest house for tourists. As the group of friends settle into their routine, it slowly but surely becomes clear that there is a presence in the abandoned settlement that seems intent on driving them away. The house that they’ve committed to renovating has a dark, disturbing history - and unpacking the mystery behind this house becomes the story’s driving force. But the closer the friends get to the truth, the more they’re accosted by an unidentifiable presence.. And yes, that presence is literally a supernatural one—but it’s more than that, too.
One of my favorite things about reading Icelandic crime fiction - beyond the superb quality of these mysteries - is the way Icelandic crime writers seem uniquely qualified to bring the natural beauty of their country to life in their fiction. Sigurdardottir is a prime example of the power of an author infusing his or her fiction with the real-life landscapes that inspired it, and in I REMEMBER YOU, this unique strength of the genre is on full display. Perhaps even more terrifying than the story’s very terrifying ghost is the interplay between Sigurdardottir’s wayward protagonists and the harsh landscape they find themselves facing. These well-meaning friends seem just a bit (okay, a lot) ill-prepared for the reality of the desolate location they’ve traveled to, and as winter storms and bitter cold encroach upon the home in which they’re taking shelter, the landscape itself becomes the story’s most imminent danger. A visceral sense of helplessness pervades this story: our protagonists are the only living souls for miles and miles, the harsh Icelandic winter is cutting through the flimsy means of protection they brought with them from Reykjavik—and, to make matters worse, there seems to be another presence in town determined to change the course of their lives forever.
It’s this potent blend of otherworldly and all-too-earthly dangers that give I REMEMBER YOU its true fear factor. You know when you’re watching a horror movie and you look forward to the “daylight scenes," because you know that those moments will allow you to take a little breather and relax? There are no "daylight scenes" to be found here. From the story’s first pages, Sigurdardottir establishes a relentless sense of dread that builds steadily and without reprieve until the book’s spine-tingling conclusion. Claustrophobic and tense, I REMEMBER YOU is proof positive that a book can be slow-burning while still being fully immersive and genuinely addictive. Sigurdardottir takes her time ratcheting up her ghost story’s tension, but readers will find that her measured pacing only serves to heighten the nail-biting suspense of the story. There’s no quick payoff here; readers will be in it for the long haul, and will love every single goosebump-inducing page.
It’s also worth noting how masterfully Sigurdardottir weaves together the book’s two plotlines. While our hapless group of friends is focused on renovating their (possibly haunted) home, in a town nearby, a young doctor is investigating the suicide of an elderly woman. Our doctor’s storyline is perhaps the more heart-tugging of the two; in his past, the doctor has suffered a terrible tragedy, and his current investigation soon reveals itself to be linked to this heartbreaking occurrence in his past. This is also perhaps the more difficult storyline to discuss without spoiling, but suffice it to say, Sigurdardottir proves once again just how masterful of a storyteller she is as she weaves this secondary plotline into the primary. I can’t say I particularly loved the character of the doctor - and I will freely admit that the book's haunted house story was, for me, the more entertaining of the two plotlines - but that didn't in the least hinder my enjoyment of the just-plain-captivating way this doctor's bizarre case comes to be tied to the story’s central mystery.
This year, make time for a little chilling Nordic Noir on your summer reading list—and start with Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s immersive, terrifying, totally entertaining I REMEMBER YOU. Bonus: once you’ve read the book, you can watch the Icelandic film adaptation, now available on Netflix!
Paperback: 370 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (March 25, 2014)
*Note: The edition pictured in my photos is this edition, published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK. I purchased my copy from Abe Books, because I loved this cover so much!
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