Danish thriller fails to flesh out characters

Resin by Ane Riel has plenty of macabre humour, but lacks psychological insight into the main characters.
Resin by Ane Riel has plenty of macabre humour, but lacks psychological insight into the main characters. PHOTO: ALEX NYBORG MADSEN, DOUBLEDAY

FICTION

RESIN

By Ane Riel

Doubleday/Paperback/313 pages/ $29.43/Books Kinokuniya

Rating: 3/5 Star


"The white room was completely dark when my dad killed my granny," Liv tells the reader in the first line of the novel.

She is a young girl brought up in isolation by her parents on an island where no other families live, in a house filled with so much junk that the Christmas tree is hung upside down to save space.

"So what was new about this Christmas was that my granny had just died. We hadn't tried that before and neither had she, obviously," Liv goes on to say.

A lot of the macabre humour in this award-winning, but ultimately disappointing, Danish thriller comes from the young narrator's lack of disapprobation towards the strange, if not outright criminal, things that her father Jens does.

When not getting up to murder, he breaks into people's homes to pick off their belongings and food. And he makes Liv go along too, eventually making her go solo on such "foraging" trips.

Resin by Ane Riel has plenty of macabre humour, but lacks psychological insight into the main characters.

The story skips along fine when the spotlight is on the young narrator, who has to live by her wits, given that her father is mentally unwell and her mother is incapacitated by illness.

But the pace sags when the book goes into the backstory of how Jens grew to be so weird.

The young Jens was a handsome, sensitive boy who enjoyed solitude, especially in the confines of a coffin.

He also liked preserving the dead by encasing them in sticky resin.

As a grown-up, Jens wants to preserve his way of life and keep intruders away, even if it means being rude to the postman and setting animal traps around the house.

The matricide aside, the book, which has been translated into English by Charlotte Barslund, is about as disturbing and creepy as The Addams Family.

One flaw is the lack of psychological insight into the main characters, unlike in, say, Stephen King's horror novels, where one cares about what happens to the well-fleshed-out characters.

Maria, Liv's mum, is an enigma. One wonders why she went along with her husband.

Jens, whose surname is Horder, is like a parody of a hoarder. This tale is funny in parts, but fails to live up to its gripping start. If you like this, read: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Pan Macmillan, 2015, $19.94, Books Kinokuniya), which also features a young female narrator who grapples with death and grief.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline 'Danish thriller fails to flesh out characters'. Print Edition | Subscribe