Review: The Exception, Christian Jungersen

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.

Other reviews:

All Lit Up (thanks for the recommendation!)
Ready When You Are, C.B.
Prairie Progressive

Let me know if I missed yours!

34 thoughts on “Review: The Exception, Christian Jungersen

    • Hell if I know. I was totally scared for a half-hour or so, then I got fed up with being scared and distracted her by throwing her tennis ball for her. Eventually she stopped barking, and I still have no idea what was freaking her out so much. My sister’s boyfriend said his dogs react that way if they see a snake, so that’s a possibility…

  1. The only thing better than your reviews are the great stories that you hide inside them. The book sounds like is both interesting and scary. I hadn’t heard of it, but it does sound like it would be a great read!

  2. So many good stories in your review; they make me smile! I think office politics books can be quite funny if done well, just because just about anyone who has worked in an office knows exactly what that is like. I’m not sure if terrifying books are my thing, but that part of this one does appeal to me.

    • Yeah, it’s not that terrifying. I’m exaggerating because it felt terrifying because my puppy was freaking me out. Feel free to read it with little fear of terror!

  3. I’m reading The Shining and my imagination has been going on overdrive as well. It seems as though The Exception isn’t a book to read right before bedtime either. ;p

    • See, I will never ever read The Shining. I am easily frightened (obviously) and cannot be doing with truly scary books, which The Exception was not. Doesn’t The Shining have, like, blood running down the halls? Am I imagining that?

  4. I am definitely adding this to my ginormous wish list because I adore books that fester in such an encompassing way that they join you in reality. IE your pup barking story. YES! Bring it on. 🙂

    • I love how you put that, “join you in reality”. It makes it sound much scarier and more dramatic than it really was, and thus makes me sound less like Catherine Morland. Hurrah! 😛

  5. This sounds like a most intriguing book and one I would very much like to read. However, since I could easily create exactly the same situation you found yourself in (so long as we substitute a cat doing that stretched-in-all-directions thing of strenuous, taut listening) I will make a note to myself to read it only in broad daylight. Thank you for the warning! 🙂

    • You’re more than welcome. My imagination is particularly inventive when I am afraid of intruders – I always imagine these elaborate scenarios of how I will escape, but they never work, even in my imagination. :/

  6. I admire you for trying not to let fear dictate your reading choices. I’m not quite there yet and would never read this because yes, I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

    • Well, thanks – I think I probably would have slept easier if I’d given it up and read Anne of Green Gables. I could always have returned to it in the morning.

    • I know! I love single unreliable narrators, let alone multiple ones! It was like Christian Jungersen wrote this book just for me. And then sucked me in and scared the hell out of me at night. :p

  7. Wonderful review, Jenny! Christian Jungersen looks like a wonderful author and I am glad that we are seeing more current Scandinavian authors in translation. I will add this to my wishlist.

    It was also interesting to read your experience while reading this book. Glad to know that it was nothing serious. Maybe your puppy was just bored.

    • He is very good at creating suspense through little things (and big things too). I wish there were more of his books available in English. :/ But evidently he has only written two books at all so far, so I guess what I wish is that his future books be translated into English.

  8. Bravo for you, reading and enjoying something in translation…this is one of my bugbears.

    And the puppy was probably all jazzed up about a possum. It’s happened before.

  9. I totally feel your easily-spooked-ness. I watched an episode of Castle a night last week when I was home alone and then had to leave all the lights on until hubby came home. *shame*

    I would read this just for the office politics. Crazy how those little things become so huge in an office environment.

    • Yes! They assume this tremendous importance, and all of a sudden you are whispering mean, gossipy things to your other coworkers in the break room about how somebody steals all the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups out of the candy box as soon as it gets put out on the desk in the conference room. :p

      (I’m kidding, but only sort of.)

      Also, I love Castle! 🙂

    • Well, I don’t even really like scary reads. If I’m going to read something scary, I prefer it to be supernatural scary, or else set way way way back in the day, or very far away. Otherwise it hits too close to home. The Exception was teetering on the line between what I can and can’t tolerate.

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