Anatomy of a Night – Anna Kim (translated by Bradley Schmidt)

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The easiest way to tell you what Anatomy of a Night is about is to quote the prologue in full:

The epidemic reaches its climax in late summer, the threshold to autumn. Eleven suicides in five hours, from Friday night to early Saturday, all without warning, announcement, or pact. The dying spread like a plague, the victims appeared to have become infected by nothing more than a touch or a gaze
       afterwards it was called a disease.

The book begins at 22:00 hours when Sivke Carlsen meets Jens, the policeman. They’re at Pakhuset, the warehouse which doubles as ‘a discotheque, a nightclub, a bar’ and Jens seems to be being fought over, passive aggressively, by Sivke and a teenager, Julie.

It’s only a few pages into the book however, before Kim begins to tell us about Amarâk, the town of the book’s setting. These lengthy passages reoccur frequently throughout the novel and suggest that Amarâk is a complex town and central to the story we are being told.

Amarâk is at the end of the world, it’s a place swallower, a place that swallows you up along with the place where you are; that purports to be less a place than an entrance – but once you cross the threshold, you can’t leave: this entrance isn’t an exit.

The underlying problem with Amarâk seems to be loneliness:

Loneliness creeps into every conversation, demanding space. But loneliness isn’t interested in what is said, only in the amount of time speech takes, it censors duration –
            and silence decends upon Amarâk, a dense fog, and your breath is its ally.

We’re then introduced to a cast of characters – Mikkel Poulsen and his partner Inger. Keyi, Malin, Pia, Caroline, Johanna…a whole town’s worth and the story of the night, the suicides and what’s lead to the suicides is told.

However, it’s not quite so straight-forward: Kim’s narrative is told in fragments, it moves back and forth between characters, events and the town and although the novel is divided into sections apparently corresponding to times, it’s certainly not a linear narrative.

Anatomy of a Suicide is the most uncompromising book I’ve ever read: Kim tells her story how she wants to and assumes that the reader will go with her. And you know what? I did. I felt compelled to read on even though I couldn’t see how the people linked to each other or where the story was going.

Was it worth it? Yes, it was, although don’t expect a huge pay-off where everything is illuminated, this isn’t a book that is going to yield its crop in one reading.

(And if you’re also struggling to work out how the characters link to each other, there’s a handy guide on the publisher’s website.)