No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014/47: The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning -- Hallgrimur Helgason

I’ve finished my first week in exile. Even though I’ve not killed anyone for the past seven days, except one small dog, this has to count as one of the most interesting weeks of my life. For seven days and seven nights the sun has not set. I’ve had five different nationalities and held down two jobs. I’ve appeared on live television. I watched the European Song Contest for the first time in six years. I broke into two apartments, stole one car, three beers, some bread and bacon and six eggs. I also find myself in love with two different girls. One Icelandic and one Indian-Peruvian.[loc. 1618]

Toxic (a.k.a. Tomislav Bokšić) is Croatian, but lives in New York: America is the land of opportunity and he's built up a formidable business as a hitman for the Croatian mafia, priding himself on a recent 'six-pack' -- six bullets, six funerals. Then it all goes horribly wrong, and Toxic ends up in Iceland (or, as he calls it, Easeland) disguised as an American televangelist.

With hilarious consequences.

Toxic really shouldn't be a likeable character, but his attempts to come to terms with his past (as a soldier in the Croatian war of independence, then as an assassin) and ensure his future (which is unnecessarily complicated, in part by Toxic's unreconstructed attitude to women). He is, to be frank, a bit of an arse. But I like his predictably dark sense of humour, and he has an outsider's eye for the absurber aspects of Icelandic society, and some interesting and profound observations on war and killing. ("A nation is the sum of our strengths, as well as of our collective stupidity. War makes the former obey the latter."[loc. 961])

The author is Icelandic, but wrote this novel in fluent and colloquial English. (I'll blame the publisher for spelling 'heroin' as 'heroine', twice.) However, it has possibly the worst closing line of any book ever: 'then I'm not sure what happens'.


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