I understand, after completing this book, why it won awards and acclaim. It was well researched and the use of the English language was exceptional. However, the extensive descriptions of excessive brutality made it really hard to keep reading, at times. Actually, at the half way point, I almost gave up. The gruesome depictions of torture and vicious human behavior, when pushed to the edge of sanity, were becoming too graphic; they made my stomach turn. However, I made a decision to stick with it and just after that point, the illustrations of violence actually did diminish for awhile, and that made it easier to continue. I generally enjoy the writings of Scandinavian authors, and this book was so widely praised, I wanted to find out why.
The author describes situations that exist beyond the edges of most imaginations. The book is not for the faint of heart. I truly found it hard to understand how someone, from a noble heritage, who used the language so beautifully, could write something so grotesque about the past. The sadism was beyond the beyond and yet, if it is based on history it makes the subject matter even more difficult to absorb or comprehend. Throughout the book, there are many characters introduced with seeming little importance to the novel, but, by the end, they are all tied in so well, that there are no questions left unanswered and the reader is fully satisfied.
When a body is discovered that has been viciously mutilated, the wolf, a dying Inspector, Carl Winge, and the watchman, Mickel Cardell, an injured former soldier, team up to solve the murder. Both men have secret reasons for wanting to solve this crime. Both men need to do it to obtain their own closure because of the private ghosts they carry within their thoughts and dreams.
The book is truly gruesome because the torture described is excessively violent and must be the result of what has to be an incredibly depraved mind. The narrative reveals the decadence and corruption of the times, (the time is 1793), as well as the extent of the poverty and the bizarre and cruel punishments of the times. The people seemed to be filled with a blood lust and the inequality of the class divide was a catalyst for revolution and death. During this time, Marie Antoinette was beheaded.
The extensive misery suffered by the citizenry seems to have reached a boiling point and the capacity for compassion was often lost while the capacity for barbaric behavior increased. The anti-Semitism of the day was introduced with characters that portray the stereotype of the cold-hearted, moneylending Jew. If you were not part of the royal scene, you lived from hand to mouth and often were practically forced to behave unethically and amorally. Human life was devalued. Women, especially, were powerless and often subjected to unfair punishments for behavior forced upon them. Desperation grew and with it, the atmosphere in society grew darker and more dangerous.
The double entendre in the meaning of the words watchman and wolf is subtly introduced throughout the pages and the impact of the varied definitions effects the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the book, even with its painfully, monstrous descriptions of the times and the people. What is a wolf? What is a watchman? What purpose do they serve? As the characters lives are developed slowly, and yet, in great detail, the reader is tantalized with questions of who they are and what purpose they serve in the novel. In the end, it is all revealed.
So even though it was a difficult read, the value of the book for me, was in its creativity, its structure and its language. There really was not even one wasted word or phrase, so I am glad I stuck with the novel. It sure held my interest once I was able to tolerate the brutality.
The audio book was read exceptionally well by the narrators as they did not get in the way of the book, but rather read it with appropriate tone and emphasis, presenting each character appropriately.
So, in conclusion, it took me a long time to finally finish this book. I found it to be a powerful novel, which was difficult to read because of the violence and excessive brutality described in such graphic detail. I wondered what kind of a person could imagine such sadistic behavior. Yet, it was one of the most creatively crafted books I have read in ages, and it didn’t seem to be designed to brainwash the reader as so many books are designed to do today, in the current political climate. The author used words so effectively, that I was placed in the setting, experiencing the moment with the characters, and that perhaps is why it was so difficult to read. Still, it captured my complete attention and encouraged me to do some research on the times to see if the history was true to form, and that, to me, is a great and important reason for reading a book.
If it encourages learning, it is more meaningful to me.