What is at the centre of your world? Have you ever thought about it? It might be you, it might be your family or it could be a place or a community. The book I just finished reading has a valley as the centre of the world for its characters. I should state now that it is not a crime book however it has elements that I believe a reader of the Nordic noir genre will appreciate and enjoy and that is why I am writing about it. The book is called The Valley at the Centre of the World written by Malachy Tallack.
Author Malachy Tallack’s writing has got under my skin in the last year. His words take their time, they are not flamboyant but they are beautiful. He captures loneliness perfectly. He also taps into the history which surrounds us which we may or may not choose to acknowledge that shapes our lives as we create new histories.
The Valley at the Centre of the World takes place in a remote valley in Shetland. It centres around the people who live there and their lives. Who has gone, who has arrived and why have they come, how do people manage and why do they stay. The characters in the book span different generations but the story is firmly rooted in the contemporary by Sandy, a young man who belongs to Shetland but doesn’t come from this particular remote setting.
The reader has a window into the valley’s comings and goings from the 31st of October until the 20th of August and each chapter is headed with a date. As we read we learn about lifestyles, language, habits and relationships. Tallack has not shied away from using Shetlandic words which really brings the characters alive to the reader. There is a glossary for those who need it but personally as a Scottish reader I understood most of what I was reading and found it fitted in well with the flow of the book.
As a reader of mainly Nordic crime books it took me about 100 pages to convince myself that a murder wasn’t going to happen but the location I was reading about certainly felt like a place where one could happen (think Trapped or Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur books). Death features in the book but not murder. Tallack has a knack for making the reader feel life’s fragility, indeed the book opens with a vivid description of Sandy assisting with the slaughtering of lambs on a croft. Life as well as death is also present in the book. Lust, love, desperation, longing and loneliness feature, all things you must have a life to experience and which shape the lives of Tallack’s characters.
When it comes down to it the one thing that ties this to Nordic books and TV shows for me is the sense of isolation felt by the reader as they explore this place through the characters. This links back to something I wrote a few years ago here where I suggest that isolation is a key feature of Nordic Noir. Most of the characters in this story feel, crave or question their isolation. They are aware of it. I also felt this when Tallack wrote about his northern travel experience in 60 Degrees North which I recommended here.
This is a must read for those who appreciate the northerly direction and the way it shapes people. If you are interested in island life, have ever thought about where you come from or if you enjoy the way landscape plays a role in a story you will find that between the pages of this book. Perhaps choose this work of fiction when you want a break from grisly murders, lonely detectives or frustrated police teams. It is a quiet but realistically rich read which I loved and I would definitely recommend The Valley at the Centre of the World (as well as his travel book 60 Degrees North) to you.
The Valley at the Centre of the World is published by Canongate.