I had a pretty high expectation of “Before I Burn” by Gaute Heivoll based on various reviews circulating around the internet about it being a crime fiction (!) written by a Norwegian author (!!). Based on these points, I was sold but sadly, it turned out to be a massive letdown.
Heivoll’s work is more of a cross between recollections and a semi-autobiography, where the narrator revisited his hometown of Finsland to investigate a series of fires set during the year he was born to seek inspiration for his book. While at home, he took a trip down memory lane to recount his relationship with his hometown, its people and his family.
My biggest gripe with this novel is the lack in suspense, which is typically expected in most crime fiction plots, because it was already given away in its synopsis where the fires were based on actual arson cases that occurred in the 1970s in a small town in rural Norway. So before starting on the book, I already knew it was going to be about arson in a small town. True to what was promised, the story was about that and not much more with a very weak plot build up, no major surprises and as expected, the overall story fell flat for me.
Furthermore, I was also unable to connect with the characters in the book even though they have suffered from losses in the fires. I reckoned that it was the manner in which the story was written such that it came across these victims were just going through the motions and even when disaster strikes, the losses were nothing more than just part and parcel in the game of life.
To be honest, NPR gave this book a raving review, promising a ‘poetic, gripping and at times even profound’ experience, and there is a whole load of people who liked it on Goodreads. I gave it my best shot and completed the book but it was simply not one of those books I could click with.
I fathom it might be because of a translation issue that the English version was unable to accurately convey the thoughtfulness and complex emotions as in Norwegian…perhaps? Or was it because I have preconceived notions about how crime thrillers should be written?
If you have read this book, let me know below if you share similar or different opinions about it. Would love to know if I am alone in thinking that this book was a disappointment.