The First In Tiller’s Encircling Trilogy Doesn’t Disappoint

Carl Frode Tiller’s Encircling is dark, twisted, and frightening

From the first pages, “Encircling” hits that tantalizing pace of a classic whodunit. For every question author Carl Frode Tiller answers, five more are posed, forcing the reader to tear through this Nordic thriller.

It’s partly the precision of the chapter titles: “Saltdalen, July 4th, 2006.” Or how the story oscillates very slightly around small windows of time. Or that the book is broken up into three successive perspectives, each of which is narrated in the first-person and then in a letter addressed to the same mysterious David character, who has lost his memory and needs friends to send their recollections to him in the hopes of his recovery.

The culmination of these skills is a dark narrative and exacting treatment that will have readers squirming from start to finish.

At times the story is intensely self-wrought, with whole paragraphs devoted to a character’s intentions, which are often not their subsequent actions. This inscrutability can make the dialogue feel halting, but also reflects the awkwardness of human interaction with an accuracy that most literature misses.

A Modern Novel for the Modern Condition

The gap between a character’s intent and what they actually communicate is largest with Jon, the first character that Tiller introduces. After being kicked out of his band, melancholy Jon heads back to his home-town of Namos to spend time with his mother. The difference between what Jon says or wants to say and how others perceive him is jarring; the reader sees a sweet thoughtful man who, to his family and friends, appears as a curmudgeon loser.

In addition to acting as an interesting form of exposition, this distance between fact and fiction becomes one of the biggest themes of this dark tale. Aside from the psychological implications, the methodical building on this theme until it crescendos in the final paragraph is tremendous and speaks to Tiller’s foresight as well as talent.

At times the prose drags with the weight this introspection, but moments of clarity are injected with Tiller’s specific descriptions, in in excepts like this —

“[H]e looked exactly as you would expect a laborer to look: big, burly and with a way of talking and acting that spoke of a strange innate blend of arrogance and inferiority complex.”

Next the reader is introduced to Arvid, David’s semi-estranged step-father who is dying alone in the cancer wing of a hospital. Arvid’s melancholy narrative paints a different picture of this absent loved one, remembering him as a lost young boy working to define himself against the stagnancy of small town life.

Although his portion is the shortest, it acts a bridge between David’s two best friends and lovers, who are the other narrators, providing a sounding board.

By the time we arrive at Silje’s tale, David is more of an enigma than ever. This trick is clever: the more we learn about this central character the less we know. Is he a tortured, closeted teenager stuck in a small town? Or a kind young boy who is upset about his mother remarrying? Or a straight Romeo who is saddled with a whiny, gay friend? David simultaneously appears to be whatever the other characters needed from him.

Paired with sinister hints at his dark personality, like his collection of small animal bones or knack for re-invention, David’s looming figure rises like a specter from the pages. His mysterious figure is clearly the heart of this tantalizing series.

The slow unraveling of truths makes every fact suspect to the reader, and this constant questioning of a truth both moves the plot forward and leaves the reader with an overwhelming sense of foreboding.

This gradual, slow and steady tension would be the ultimate tease if this weren’t the first book in a trilogy. And that would be one of the only critiques of the work: that it feels more like an introduction than a work of its own. To be sure, the final twist gave the tale enough heft to stand alone, but it feels thin compared to what seems to be coming down the pike.

And with a little luck and work from Graywolf Press, English readers won’t have to wait too long for the next in this electrifying series. This reviewer is counting down the days.

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