Wednesday 27 August 2014

Book Review: See You Tomorrow by Tore Renberg

If perfect characters are boring, then Tore Renberg's latest novel, his first to be translated into English, promises to be very interesting indeed. Lifting the lid of respectability on Stavanger, oil capital of Norway, to reveal the seething detritus beneath, See You Tomorrow brings together a collection of flawed individuals in a fast-moving sequence of events, which will push them towards acts of ever-increasing desperation.

Welcome to Hell, where everybody has their own circle. Fifteen-year-old good girl Sandra is in love with handsome but dangerous Daniel William Moi, and has a fight on her hands if she's to keep him. Single father Pål is struggling to bring up his two daughters, Malene and Tiril, on his modest civil servant's salary, hiding his addiction which is spiralling into debt. Out of better options, he turns to a gang of small-time criminals he knew in his school-days; Jan Inge, Rudi and Cecilie, each one inhabiting the long, dark shadows created by their own past.

See You Tomorrow takes place over three claustrophobically intense September days of unusually late sunshine, holding the winter at bay. Stories are interwoven, with each chapter told from a different character's perspective. Sandra brings with her all the longing and insecurities of a teenager's first love; she knows who she wants, but it's messing with her head:
All she's got is heat and dread, haste and apprehension. All she feels is this drizzle within, like a strange rain falling inside her, wonderful and dangerous.
She'd love to know what Daniel really thinks of her. If only she could read his thoughts:
Wow, she's slightly knock-kneed. He hadn't noticed. She runs like that and all, knees banging together, one hands under her tits, her head sort of dancing from side to side, her other hand swinging out as though it had a mind of its own, alive, free from the rest of her. Christ she looks gorgeous, looks super sexy running along. 
Daniel and Sandra meet in the woods at night, where Pål is asking Rudi for help. A one-man stream of sex-devoted consciousness, Rudi has been totally in love with poor, damaged Cecilie for the last twenty-seven years. There's no doubt Cecilie loves Rudi too, most of the time, but she's worn out by the seediness of their life, all the petty break-ins on speed. She habitually cries from just one eye and carries her own secret; she's expecting a baby but doesn't know who is the father.

Cecilie shares her childhood home with Rudi and her brother and gang leader, Jan Inge. Obsessed with horror movies and having previously pimped his own sister for sex, Jan Inge may just be the most broken one of all. He's overweight and afraid of loneliness, yet considers himself big-hearted, living by his own warped and hilarious code of morality:
'...let me make it quite clear that we're anti-porn. We're feminists twenty-four hours a day. At your service, women!'
The fourth gang member is Korean hard-man Tong, who will be released from Åna prison just in time to take part in their next job. Unsurprisingly, the gang's solution to Pål's problems, a classic in their book, is one that Pål himself is far from comfortable with. As Malene and Tiril, preoccupied with their new friend Sandra's predicament, become aware that something is going badly wrong for their father, they may already be too late to prevent more than one life from unravelling.

See You Tomorrow is a gripping, fast-paced read in the tradition of Nordic noir. The twists and turns of the plot have you in its thrall; its shocks are not for the squeamish. The atmosphere, layered with music, is reminiscent of an Ian Rankin Rebus novel, albeit from a different source; there's Metallica and Motörhead, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, along with Evanescence for the younger generation.

Tore Renberg is already an author of repute in Norway, having published several successful books which have been made into films. He's also a charismatic speaker and, if you get the chance to see him in person, I'd urge you to do so. His work has been translated into nineteen languages and the sequel to See You Tomorrow, featuring the same characters, will also be published in English by Arcadia.

What transforms See You Tomorrow from a straightforward crime thriller into such a genre-defying accomplishment is Renberg's sense of humour, coupled with an unusual structure and powerful detail which lets the reader right into his characters' heads. You sympathise with them no matter how self-inflicted their dilemmas or despicable their actions; even a lowlife like Rudi, who in reality you'd cross the street to avoid, becomes strangely endearing in his one-note obsessiveness and furtive love of Coldplay. Only with Tong, the inscrutable Korean tough guy, was I really unable to feel any connection (but then he is supposed to be inscrutable).

Most unexpectedly of all, See You Tomorrow proves ultimately to be an uplifting read; in the shafts of light between the darkness, there's a whole lot of love going round. Life more or less damages us all and, no matter how broken, everyone in this story is in some odd way celebrating their time on earth. And that, in itself, is perfection.

See You Tomorrow by Tore Renberg (translated by Sean Kinsella) is published by Arcadia Books in the UK and available in hardback. Thanks to Arcadia Books for my review copy.


  1. Wow! Sounds like a roller-coaster of a read. And not at all predictable (which is always a good thing in my opinion). Great review...I'll have to watch for this author. (And this book!)

    1. Thank you! He's definitely someone to watch out for - as Matt Haig says on the back cover, there's not a single boring sentence...

  2. See you tomorrow was a complete knockout ! The nr2 book in this series was out in the bookstores here in Norway today. Can't wait to start reading, highly addicitve! Enjoy this fabulous read!

    1. I'm totally jealous of you having the second book already! Can somebody translate it into English quickly please?


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