Thursday, August 27, 2020

WITMonth Day 27 | Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen | Review

You know what's one of the most frustrating trends in the literary world? Different titles for the same book. This phenomenon is understandably more common with literature in translation than books in their original language, though those too will occasionally pop up with a new name in the weirdest way. Why do books need vastly different titles across different countries? The book had a title - translate it and leave it be!

Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen (tr. into English, to my knowledge, from Korneliussen's translation into Danish, by Anna Halager) is another example of this extraordinarily annoying phenomenon. The UK edition is marketed as Crimson, and both editions are marketed very different from translations into other (European) languages. Go figure! Marketing is weird, right? But then there are folks like me who don't pay attention and do some of their bookshopping from UK stores and some from US and almost buy the same book twice. At least this time I didn't, but you know. Keep an eye out.

I actually read Last Night in Nuuk last year. Somehow, I forgot to add it to my reading list and it quickly felt like a book I had read long ago, not a recent read. A year later, I find myself with a similar overall impression. It feels like a book I've always known, somehow. It's a book that's always been in my memory, even though I can vividly recall reading it.

There is a decently high chance you will not like Last Night in Nuuk. The things about the book that make it good and interesting are not necessarily things that will appeal to all readers. For instance, I really liked just how quick the book is - Last Night in Nuuk moves at an extraordinarily brisk pace - but it's the sort of overly fast pacing that makes a book always feel like it's existed in the past. Many readers have not enjoyed that aspect as I did.

The writing is similarly divisive. The immediacy of the first-person present tense isn't for everyone. I often don't love it myself, but it made perfect sense for a book that's as contemporary as Last Night in Nuuk is supposed to feel. Everything about the book feels designed to capture an instant moment for a very specific group of young people (i.e. millennials, and specifically queer millennials) and it really only works within that context and understanding. Even the use of text messages embedded into the story is something that would probably ring false for some readers, but I felt fine with. To mix metaphors, the book seemed flow at just the right register.

So what's Last Night in Nuuk about? In short, it's about the muddled and messy lives of a group of young, queer Greenlanders just trying to figure it out. For some, it's about a sense of identity. For others, it's their actual relationships and the way these shape their lives. The characters cross narratives frequently, their stories and lives overlapping. This ultimately also contributes to the retrospective feeling that the book was always a memory in my mind, since I can't fully extricate the story of each character from the others (with one exception, where an especially sloppy bit of writing left its mark). It also feeds into the feeling that the book is vaguely timeless, despite its strong millennial root. The texting and style date the novel, but the overall story vibe feels disconnected from all of this.

I ended up liking Last Night in Nuuk a lot more than other readers, I think. I've thought about the book's unique style a lot over the past year and tried to understand what it was about the novel that worked for me when it didn't for other readers. It's a book that's tough to recommend (especially without knowing someone's reading tastes!), but I think readers who are willing to let their books get a little weird and rough around the edges, Last Night in Nuuk pays off by having well defined characters that dig their way into your mind and feel uniquely alive in a very particular moment. Whatever else, it's a fairly different book, and if you're open to that sort of difference (bearing in mind that the style really might not work for you!), I think it's worth reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments have been disabled due to an increase in spam. Sorry!