A strong and forceful debut
By Derryll White
Melander, Jakob (2014). The House That Jack Built.
On starting this first novel by Jakob Melander I thought, oh my god, there really is a defined Scandinavian literary style: dark, really black perspective on what the world of opportunity holds. But I decided to persevere because I wanted to know who Detective Lars Winkler was and how the author was going to portray the city of Copenhagen.
Paul Russell Garnett’s translation reads seamlessly. This couldn’t have been an easy book to work with. Melander’s language and images are both chaotic, colliding, and rich in concealed meaning. Garnett negotiates it all with amazing grace.
I had to work at this novel. There are several story lines advancing simultaneously, and a couple of time periods. It takes some sorting. There is a focus on prostitution, on the trading in young girls from Eastern Europe into Denmark. The conditions in which these women are kept is very disturbing.
Today we live in a discordant world where people hate one another; murder each other based on religious belief. The world lurches toward catastrophic climate change. And at the same time we are spawning more and more social deviants, the type Melander presents here.
This is indeed a soul-wrenching story. The reader has to work at tracking the time and psychic lapses that occur with frequency within the text. One also has to work at the bleak nature of the Second World War portion of the story, and bring that up to time with modern Copenhagen and the atrocities still being committed.
“The House That Jack Built’ is probably the darkest and harshest novel of all the Scandinavian fiction I have read. But there is something about Detective Lars Winkler that is attractive, compelling. He is obsessed with his job. He breaks all the rules. His life is chaos, but he reminds me so much of some of my own past. For a debut novel, this work is incredibly strong and forceful. I will read more from Jakob Melander.
Excerpts from the novel:
AIR RAID – Poof, poof – poof, poof, poof. The sound is almost cute from down here. But there is also another sound. Something exploding, falling through the night sky. Screaming metal. She pulls the blanket all the way over her head, but no blanket will help tonight. The shrill screeching grows louder and louder. Then it’s as t5hough the house – no, the earth – is shaking. The crash is so tremendous, the world goes silent. Everything is completely still.
Then, little by little, the world begins to speak again.
THE METAPHOR – It creaks and trembles inside. The continental plates are shifting. Soon there is a glimpse of the Urgrund. The roar rises through flesh and sinews, tears tissues and bone fragments apart until the nerve endings flap in the bloodwind and a roaring chaos reigns. Primordial soup. He staggers down the stairs. He’s lived here for so long that the two – the soul’s house of flesh and bones, the body’s of stone and wood – have gradually become one. His blood flows through the pipes; the stairs and rafters are his skeleton, the breaker panel and the ingenious network of power cords his neural network.
TV – He turned on the TV. One feel-good feature after another, only to be replaced by an in-depth feature on the price difference between plastic bags. What was it his mother had said? That TV is society’s appendix, a useless part of a system whose only function is to release shit.
PUNK – And then there was the music: wild and intense; hard, fast, and frenetic. Beautiful as a rock slide and filled with the poetry of destruction. It tore away the dust and the haze that numbed the senses, liberated the mind and exposed the bleeding flesh.
– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.