Monday, December 20, 2010

"Because you didn't have any"

My first Icelandic thriller turned out to be fairly thrilling. Tainted Blood, by Arnaldur Indriðason, was also published as Jar City. It's well-paced and has some thought-provoking aspects, not least being Iceland's nature as a closed community and how invaluable it therefore is in terms of things like genetic research, when traits and diseases can be readily mapped to geneological trees.

Detective Erlunder, the main investigator, is a fairly well-drawn character, with a complicated personal side, blah, blah, blah. His coworkers are more enigmatic, or more thin (at least in this first of the detective series).

It turned out that they were well suited, had similar interests and both wanted to make a beautiful home for themselves with exclusive furniture and objets d'art, yuppies at heart. They always kissed when they met after a long day at work. Gave each other little presents. Even opened a bottle of wine. Sometimes they went straight to bed when they got home from work, but there's been considerably less of that recently.

That was after she had given him a pair of very ordinary Finnish Wellington boots for his birthday. He tried to beam with delight but the expression of disbelief stayed on his face for too long and she saw there was something wrong. When he finally smiled it was false.

"Because you didn't have any," she said.

"I haven't had a pair of Wellington boots since I was . . . 10," he said.

"Aren't you pleased?"

"I think they're great," Sigurdur Óli said, knowing that he hadn't answered the question. She knew it too. "No, seriously," he added and could tell he was digging himself a cold grave. "It's fantastic."

"You're not pleased with them," she said morosely.

"Sure I am," he said, still at a total loss because he couldn't stop thinking about the 30,000-króna wristwatch he'd given her for her birthday, bought after a week of explorations all over town and discussions with watchmakers abut brand, gold plating, mechanisms, straps, water-tightness, Switzerland and cuckoo clocks. He'd applied all his detective skills to find the right watch, found it in the end and she was ecstatic, her joy and delight were genuine.

There he was sitting in front of her with his smile frozen on his face and tried to pretend to be overjoyed, but he simply couldn't do it for all his life was worth.

— from Tainted Blood, by Arnaldur Indriðason.

This passage is nothing much special — it's certainly not representative, nor is it particularly witty. I think it's quite weird, actually; it sticks out of this book like a sore thumb. And it is about all the insight we're going to get into the private life of Sigurdur Óli, Erlunder's partner.

But it made me kind of sad. And it made me think a little harder about what I would do for J-F for his birthday this year. Happy birthday, J-F!

1 comment:

Cipriano said...

What an insightful passage..... with regards to gift-giving in general. I've always been perplexed by the practice. My parents were very generous, but not in relation to the big "significant" days, [birthdays, holidays] etc. When it comes to Christmas, I think I believe more fully in gift-giving that cannot be reciprocated. In other words, Christmas is for children. Adults should stay out it, unless they are buying for the children.