THE DINOSAUR FEATHER: SISSEL-JO GAZAN trans CHARLOTTE BARSLUND

Posted: December 8, 2011 in Book Awards, Denmark, dinosaurs, review, Scandinavia

I have finally finished The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan translated by Charlotte Barslund. This book, which was kindly sent to me by Maxine of Petrona, who reviewed it so intelligently at Euro Crime, weighed in at a stunning 536 pages.  Firstly I did enjoy reading it and had a lot of fun with it as you can see from my previous posts, but perhaps I wasn’t meant to enjoy it in the way I did. Perhaps it was meant to be taken more seriously and not with its plethora of back stories and frequent information dumps be considered a pastiche of Scandinavian crime fiction. 

My previous posts at Back story blues… and The World’s Most Irritating Detective with freckles discuss some of the amusing and bemusing features of this novel. My copy came with a sticker conveying the message that “If you enjoyed The Killing You’ll love this!” I asked myself why?

Presumably on the simple geographic coincidence that most of the novel is set in Copenhagen.

The three main characters in the novel are, Soren Marhauge, a police detective, Anna Bella Nor, a PhD student at University of Copenhagen, and Clive Freeman, an obsessive biologist whose theory on the evolution of birds has brought him into conflict with the rest of research establishment. All three are fairly unsympathetic, possibly because they have had more than their fair share of life’s tragedies, and reacted by becoming incredibly self centered. For instance when Anna’s supervisor Professor Lars Helland is discovered dead in his study with his severed tongue lying on Anna’s dissertation in his lap, her first thought is for her bloodied PhD work and her approaching viva voce. 

The Dinosaur Feather comes with the accolade “Danish Crime Novel of the Decade”,  an award from the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s crime book club that has 30,000 members. Surely 30,000 readers can’t be wrong, although I asked myself was that a decade in which Leif Davidsen and Jussi-Adler Olsen did not write any novels. I have to admit laughing out loud at the pages of back story provided for character after character, some of which turned out to be totally irrelevant, except to show why this or that character was so bad tempered and morose. These back stories, and the chunks of detailed information dumped on the reader about research, university grants, and the goth and fetish scene made the book seem rather formulaic, as if the author was trying to copy the style of other Scandinavian crime writers.

The reader is provided with a melange of human emotions and traumas . Do we really need the details of Freeman’s homo-erotic lust for Jack as a child to emphasise his distress when as an adult Jack becomes an editor of a scientific journal and rejects his theory? Do we need a bleak tale of post natal depression, and a  suspicious name change subplot inserted hundreds of pages into the main story? 

The use of back stories and sub-plots that hold up the development of the narrative is a technique that can produce a series of exciting cliffhangers or it can become an annoyance when it is overdone. In The Dinosaur Feather characters are reintroduced into the narrative hundreds of pages after we first come across them in a back story with the result that I frequently forgot who was who, and what was going on, and even who had been murdered. Younger brighter readers might not have this problem. 

I began to chuckle, when on page 490 I read this:

‘When did you last speak with him?’

‘Perhaps you could just let me tell you the whole story,’ she said.

Then I had to laugh out loud when as expected we were then given  20 pages of back story about a character who was only been briefly mentioned once in the previous 400 plus pages.

Sissel-Jo Gazan is undoubtedly a talented writer, and somewhere hidden among the chaff  of her 536 page novel is an excellent 300 page book featuring scientific controversy and gripping human interest stories. If a sequel is planned to follow her characters and tie up the loose ends I sincerely hope is is edited with more vigour, although perhaps that would mean it would have less laughs. 

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Comments
  1. Oh I have enjoyed your posts about this book Norman…as well as this review. I must admit I do have this one (it was on ebook special one day) but I am not terribly tempted to pick it up – not when there are so many shorter books available for my reading pleasure. Perhaps one day…I’ll keep it on the eReader anyway as one never knows when one might me stuck down a disused mine shaft for several days and require something to keep one from thinking about one’s impending death 😉

  2. Norman – Like Bernadette, I’ve been richly enjoying your posts on this book. They really do highlight what can go wrong with an originally fascinating premise and so does this excellent review. I think I’ll wait to read this one …

  3. Maxine says:

    Ha ha Bernadette! I don’t think it was that bad compared with a few I’ve read recently. Very fair review Norman but you did not mention the teeth which I am sure came into it somewhere – probably why I sent you the book in the first place though I feel a bit guilty about that now! At least you had some fun with it. You put your finger on the things that I found did not really work about this novel – in fact the last 200 pages seemed like “the” novel, not sure about the first 300!

  4. I have also enjoyed your wonderful posts, and I can see I´ll have to read it to satisfy my own curiosity, but I´ll wait until I stumble on it in the library 🙂

  5. kathy d. says:

    Ha, ha! Very funny between your post and Bernadette’s. A book one might be glad to have while facing impending doom in a mine shaft! Quite a recommendation!

    I guess I’ll hold on on reading this book. I will as I’d have to buy it as the library won’t have it, and I don’t want to buy a 536 page book, in which the story is 300 pages. All that back story would knock me out.

    I just keep hoping for some normal 300-page reads. Just read a few around that size and was thankful. I was hoping to learn a bit about evolution, dinosaurs, birds, you know, but it sounds like I’d drown in the extra pages here, learning about freckles, an unimportant character, etc. Not my thing.

  6. Norman says:

    Thanks Margot, Maxine [and for the book], Dorte and Kathy.
    There were some very serious subjects dealt with in this book; loneliness, the nature of friendship, parental abuse, homosexual rape, latent paedophilia, academic backstabbing, single parenthood, the male ego, and the funding of research.
    But the way it began with a dream sequence was significant, I felt the author was trying too hard and had so many different ideas that there was enough material for a ten book series, which she had squeezed into one rambling book.

  7. kathy d. says:

    It sounds like the author needed a very good editor who would cut this book to a reasonable length and keep to the main plot, and also to suggest that she write at least one or two books more with some of the material.

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