Yrsa Sigurdardottir has become one of my favourite thriller writers after just two of her detective novels. There is something about the way she can write the grimly fascinating with such humour that really works for me. So when it came to a spooky choice for The Readers Book Club, now Hear… Read This!, I decided to choose her first foray into horror, I Remember You, as a choice of this month’s episode as I thought it would be just the chilling read for this time of year.
I Remember You is told through two alternating tales both set in Iceland. Out over the water on the Westfjords three friends head to an isolated village where they have bought a ramshackle old house to do up as a future guest house and investment. They are remote, the weather is turning and many, including one of their number, think that they are crazy for heading out there. As the trio start to try and make the place habitable strange things start to happen and it becomes apparent that someone or something wants them to leave.
Back on the mainland a school has been vandalised and an elderly woman has committed suicide, nothing seems to connect these two or does it? A young psychiatric doctor, Freyr, is called to both cases and soon learns that what has happened to the school has happened before in the past and, more shockingly, the woman who killed herself seemed to be obsessed by his son who vanished a few years ago. Soon enough strange things also start happening to Freyr and make him start to question his own scepticism and look back on the case of his missing son.
I really enjoyed being chilled and thrilled by Yrsa and I genuinely did get creeped out by the book as Yrsa, as with her crime novels, slowly creates a sense of unease and toys with the reader. Admittedly the first time I had a genuine moment of fear was because I was reading it and had forgotten that some of my lights are on a timer and so when they went out I royally jumped out of my skin. That said, even when I was reading the book with the lights on there were several times when I thought that something was moving just out the corner of my eye. It was quite unnerving, but a sign the book was definitely doing what it set out to. It is all done very deftly with a nice sense of pacing about it too; sometimes there is a small sensation of fear, others more of a sudden bang.
Freyr started slightly when a click suggested that someone had grabbed the doorknob. Again the door opened as slowly as before, and stopped once there was a small gap. The fluorescent bulb could be heard clicking once more, now with apparently greater frequency.
‘Hello?’ Freyr leaned over the desk to try to see through the gap. There was nothing but the blinking of the faulty ceiling light. ‘Hello?’ A chill passed over him when a familiar voice whispered in response to his call. A voice that had always been lively, contented and joyful, but that now sounded cold and lifeless. A voice that seemed so near, yet at the same time so infinitely far away.
Iceland is a perfect setting for a ghost story too. Having been last year I discovered just how ‘other worldly’ the place is. In the remotest parts there is little to see bar some trees, rocks and snow for miles and miles around. There is also the real sense of the mythical there and whether you have been or not Yrsa nicely winds in elements of folklore and superstition still thriving in Iceland along with more topical items like its economy, particularly in Freyr’s narrative which seemed much more bedded in the modern world as we know it, the friends on the island less so, that seemed to be a place time had forgotten – a place of little electricity and no phone signals, making it easier to be creepy whilst in a modern setting, something I think is very hard to do.
I will admit I had a small wobble or two with the book. Firstly, I missed Yrsa’s humour and wit, which Last Rituals and My Soul To Take are so brimming with thanks to their protagonist Thora. That said has there been any laughs then I would imagine a lot of the tension would have been lost, yet it is Yrsa’s dark humour that is such an important aspect of her writing. What I did like very much was how the supernatural tale had to encompass a crime procedural as the police get involved with Freyr’s case. This felt very real, as I mentioned before Iceland is a place where myth and folklore still linger and people are open to all sorts of ideas. It also reminded me of a reversal of My Soul To Take where Yrsa takes a crime novel and gives it a hint of the supernatural, I think I liked that one a little bit more
Secondly, with any alternating tale there is the possible danger that the reader will like one more than the other. Whilst I was enjoying the thrills and spills as Katrin, Gardar and Lif built the house in the haunting wilderness, I found that I was so gripped by Freyr’s story across the water that sometimes I really wanted to get back to that. The trio’s tale was interesting, and indeed has most of the scare in it because of the setting, yet Freyr’s situation with his son just had that added emotional depth and was out of the norm of a normal ghostly tale than the other which felt more familiar within the ghostly drama. I also had a slight issue with how the two separate tales intertwined. Whilst the twists and turns as it went on were brilliant, the tension getting tighter and tighter and me getting more freaked out, when I got to the last few chapters I thought ‘oh is that it’ mixed with ‘well honestly, how were we meant to guess that’. Saying that though, I thought the last paragraph was utter genius and pleased me no end.
I think I Remember You is a very good modern ghost story with an unusual crime thriller twist. It is a tale that will make you feel very uneasy and give you the desired chills you will be looking for picking up a book of this genre. I am also fascinated by the fact that it is partly based on a true tale, I just wonder which bit? You can see a piece by Yrsa on visiting the abandoned town of Hesteyri, where the book is based, here. I would recommend you give this a read if you are an Yrsa fan, and Iceland fan or just fancy reading something chilling, I very much enjoyed it.
Oh and if you want to hear even more about the book you can here Kate, Rob, Gavin and myself talking about it on the latest episode of Hear… Read This! where we have a whole spectrum of thoughts on the book.