Monday, 7 April 2008

Berlin Poplars by Anne B Ragde

Harvill Secker

DULL, intellectual-looking cover, check. Translation from the Norwegian, check. Harrowing farm story, check.

I picked up Berlin Poplars with the quiet faith that this was going to be a really dull book.

Boy, was I wrong.

It's darkly funny, grabs you at the start and doesn't let go. Not often is a book this great.

And even at the end, when you think everything's wrapped up, there's a shock that makes you go "WOW!!" as you realise the real identity of the father despised by everyone in his family.

It starts discouragingly with an undertaker arranging the funeral of a 16-year-old suicide. Highly moral, very Christian, deeply respected by his community, the undertaker hasn't spoken to his two brothers in years.

One brother is the farmer in his fifties, at home with their 80-year-old mother and hated father. All his love and care go to his breeding sows.

The other brother is ragingly camp, a window-dresser who's escaped gloomy Norway and his family to live in uxorious luxury with his lover, a senior newspaper editor.

When the aged mother has a stroke, the three men - and the daughter the farmer has supported but never loved - turn up, and everything has to change.

Sounds awful, doesn't it? But if you want a treat, race to get this book, because it's truly heartwarming, and so, so funny.

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