Blair's Reviews > Crimson

Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen
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Originally published as Homo Sapienne and translated as Crimson (UK) and Last Night in Nuuk (US), this novel has been a surprise breakthrough hit for debut author Niviaq Korneliussen. In an interview, the author says the original text mixes Greenlandic with flecks of Danish and English; the UK publisher's blurb states she also translated it into Danish herself. (Whether the English translation is from the Greenlandic or Danish version isn't stated in the review copy I read.) The story follows a number of characters in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, as they explore their identities.

First we meet Fia, whose fierce and striking voice makes for a bracing opening chapter. In a furious stream of thoughts – sentences often running on for pages – she gives an account of her boredom with boyfriend Peter (dry kisses stiffening like desiccated fish), an unsatisfying one-night stand with a stranger, and the explosive lust that ensues when she meets beautiful Sara at a party. I loved Fia's chapter: it's furiously alive even when she succumbs to morbid thoughts.

Death has begun to appear in my dreams, and I'm petrified. Murder. Death of the soul. A shrivelled corpse. Suicide. Death has begun to visit me, and I'm petrified. Mass murder. A failed suicide attempt. Envious of the dead. I've begun to walk hand in hand with it, and I'm petrified. I make up my mind because death won't leave my mind. There has always been something missing here.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' cover of 'Crimson and Clover' gives the book its title: it's Fia's favourite song, and becomes emblematic of her desire to be with Sara.

One of the most illuminating voices belongs to Inuk, Fia's brother, whose narrative serves to contextualise some of the others. Inuk is caught up in his own crisis of identity: he sees Greenland as a prison from which he must escape; he wants to support his sister but struggles with the news of her new relationship – at times hatefully parroting homophobic phrases he has, presumably, heard elsewhere – and, unable to believe Fia knows what she's doing, he suspects Arnaq's corrupting influence is responsible. Inuk's story mirrors Fia's in that he must endure a kind of death – life has killed me – before he is able to accept himself. This theme of rebirth is woven through the novel.

Arnaq threatens to become the villain of the piece – a free-spirited party animal who brings the others together and drives them apart, a whirlwind who seduces and spills secrets because she thinks it's funny – and when we see another side to her, it's heartbreaking.

Embarrassment. My thoughts fall to the ground, blown away by the wind. Disappear. Nothing left. Autopilot. My brain has switched off. Autopilot is switched on. The shame stops. Autopilot takes over. All feeling dies. My body walks on... Autopilot when I give. Autopilot when it's over. Autopilot when I've sinned. Autopilot when I'm sober. Autopilot forever.

The characters in Crimson are always partying and drinking – because they're lost, or because there's nothing else to do? (I thought it was interesting that many of them drink to excess on an eye-wateringly regular basis, but drugs are hardly ever mentioned. Is this emblematic of these characters' social scene or of Greenlandic culture as a whole?) 'Nuuk is big when there's actually someone you want to bump into', says Sara, but in reality Nuuk is stiflingly small – a capital city with a smaller population than the suburban town I grew up in.

The island has run out of oxygen. The island is swollen. The island is rotten.

There's something magical about the texture of Crimson, the way it evokes its setting so effortlessly and without cliche, the way it achieves depth of characterisation in short chapters, trimmed of all superfluous detail. It plumbs the darkest depths of its characters' despair but comes up sparkling, fresh, renewed. I thought this book was both electrifying and moving, and since I finished it, I've found myself thinking about it on a regular basis.

I received an advance review copy of Crimson from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Reading Progress

December 28, 2017 – Shelved
October 9, 2018 – Started Reading
October 9, 2018 –
page 60
October 10, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Maddie (new) - added it

Maddie C. I'm really looking forward to the publication of this one! Glad you enjoyed it

Elyse Walters Enjoyed your review!!!

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