Buried in Print posted a review of Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life the other day, and as I was preparing jubilant remarks in my head to comment on the post, I saw that there was already a jubilant-remarks comment on the post, by Jenny, and I was like, Whoa, did I comment on this post in a fugue state? It freaked me out, so I hastily clicked “Jenny” and that is how I found….British Jenny! Hooray! (Hi, British Jenny!) British Jenny had just read a book that was translated from the Danish (I am trying to read more books in translation) and featured multiple unreliable narrators as well as numerous fun facts about genocide. You know I had to get on that.
The Exception is about the women who work at a (fictional) Danish institution for the study of genocide. They start getting threatening emails, which they assume at first to be the work of a particular terrorist about whom they have written in the past. However, they soon begin to suspect that someone at their own institution was responsible for the emails. This gives rise to some very unpleasant office politics and causes everyone to reflect on the nature of evil. Throughout the book, we get the points of view of each of the four women in the office, so that we are always having to re-evaluate what we thought we knew about them and the dynamics of the office they work in.
When you say a book is about office politics, that doesn’t necessarily send people dashing to the bookstore to acquire it, but I really enjoyed those parts of the book. Jungersen does it so well, the disputes about tiny things (keep the door to the library open or don’t keep it open) that begin to assume a disproportionate level of importance the longer they go unresolved; the way you hear a rumor about what’s happening to the office and its occupants, and suddenly everyone has heard the rumor and cannot stop whispering about it. What made all this even better (to me) was the “Can This Marriage Be Saved”-like way I was never sure which side of any conflict was the right side, because it looked so utterly different depending on who was narrating.
There was some psychobabble that mildly annoyed me, and I am not crazy about third-person present-tense – as Memory points out, how would that work anyway? – but seriously, this book is damn good, and overcomes its minor flaws to be awesome. You know, upsetting, but awesome.
Here is what I did that was stupid. I started reading The Exception in the afternoon on Friday (or Saturday maybe?), when everything was bright and cheerful, and then the book was absorbing so I carried on reading it as darkness fell. The book talked about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. It talked about this, and also about scary torture techniques and breaking into houses and raping and looting. I took a short break from all the reading to let my puppy out, and she let out a barrage of urgent barks, which usually just means she wants to come back inside. So I let her inside, but she didn’t start barking. She stared furiously at the back door and barked her stupid puppy head off, and she did this at intervals for twenty minutes. And I was like, Aaaaaa, there’s a burglar, but I turned on all the outside lights and peered out the windows, and nope, no burglar. I was still sort of spooked, and the puppy continued to flip her shit for no reason, and I really didn’t want to carry on reading my genocide book.
But instead of putting aside my genocide book and reading Hilary McKay and L. M. Montgomery until bedtime, I foolishly thought about it a lot, and I decided that I wasn’t going to let fear dictate my reading choices, by God! I thought, I will never become brave if I don’t actively try not to be fearful. In retrospect I’m not sure why it seemed so important to finish reading The Exception right then rather than waiting for morning. All this to say, I do not know if this book would ordinarily count for the RIP Challenge, but since I read the last third of it with my heart racing, and my ears all alert for bad guys breaking into my house, and my stupid overactive brain imagining fifteen different (bad) ways that could play out, I’m counting it.
Let me know if I missed yours!