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Man Booker International Short List 2017: The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen


Next up on my Man Booker International journey is The Unseen, a book about which I have mixed feelings. Keep reading to find out why.The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
Published: August 2016
Original language: Norwegian
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Find it/buy it here: The Unseen

This ARC was provided by Quercus Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Nobody can leave an island. An island is a cosmos in a nutshell, where the stars slumber in the grass beneath the snow. But occasionally someone tries . . .

Ingrid Barrøy is born on an island that bears her name – a holdfast for a single family, their livestock, their crops, their hopes and dreams.

Her father dreams of building a quay that will connect them to the mainland, but closer ties to the wider world come at a price. Her mother has her own dreams – more children, a smaller island, a different life – and there is one question Ingrid must never ask her.

Island life is hard, a living scratched from the dirt or trawled from the sea, so when Ingrid comes of age, she is sent to the mainland to work for one of the wealthy families on the coast.

But Norway too is waking up to a wider world, a modern world that is capricious and can be cruel. Tragedy strikes, and Ingrid must fight to protect the home she thought she had left behind.

Book Worm’s Ratings and Thoughts: This is a difficult book to score and enjoyed it much more than the total points breakdown would suggestion. The issue is that this is a story about how one family survives on a small island off the Norwegian mainland. While the family dynamic is interesting, very little actually happens. Furthermore, due to the way the narrative is written we get an overview of the family but there is little in the way of in-depth character development.

There are lots of moments within the novel that I did enjoy. I loved the way the island itself is as much as a character as the people who inhabit it.

“in these situations people are not themselves and cannot see that once you settle on an island, you never leave, an island holds on to what it has with all its might and main”

The role of nature is also an important part of life on an island and I thought this was very well captured by the author.

“And during this winter it became abundantly clear to her again, she belonged on Barroy, an island that no longer had seasons, which was always with her even when she wasn’t there.”

“And Ingrid sensed this power that only a bird can feel as it sits on the ridge of a hill, wings outstretched, letting the wind do the rest.”


These things all work really well within the narrative and manage to capture the hardships and rewards of living on the land and being self supporting. There are dramatic moments in the book largely caused by the weather and the characters do face momentous changes, however as a reader I felt removed from what was happening. Perhaps that is the point of the narrative — unless you live that kind of life you cannot fully relate to it.

Here are my scores for this book.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 13/20

Want to try it for yourself? You can purchase your copy here: The Unseen

Here are my current rankings of shortlist books:
1. Fever Dreams (18.5/20)
2. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (17/20)
3. A Horse Walks into a Bar (15/20)
4. The Unseen 13/20)

Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t read it, does it appeal to you?

Tomorrow we will squeeze in the reviews for the final two books and I will make my prediction for the winner.




3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tracy S #

    Another one not available in the US yet, and one I’d like to read. Sigh…


    June 6, 2017
  2. I find it interesting that the Goodreads synopsis doesn’t give much of a hook to make me want to read the novel, and I wonder if it’s for the reasons BW has identified – the lack of character depth and feeling at a remove from the action. I hadn’t heard of it before this review and the title made me think it might be a ghost mystery or horror. I tend to enjoy Scandinavian fiction, I like the undertow of bleakness that often comes through, but this one isn’t grabbing me.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 8, 2017
    • I feel very similarly to you. I also tend to enjoy Scandinavian literature but have little interest in this one


      June 13, 2017

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