The Cold Song

The Cold Song has been chosen by independent booksellers as an Indie Next Pick

From the internationally best-selling author Linn Ullmann, hailed as a “an elegant stylist with an original voice” (New York Times Book Review) comes this taut, brilliantly acute novel of a family who when faced with tragedy must confront their guilt, their longings, and their losses.

Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner, is married to Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist plagued by writer’s block. Siri and Jon have two daughters, and together they spend their summers on the coast of Norway, in a mansion belonging to Jenny Brodal, Siri’s stylish and unforgiving mother.

Siri and Jon’s marriage is loving but difficult, and troubled by painful secrets. They have a strained relationship with their elder daughter, Alma, who struggles to find her place in the family constellation. When Milla is hired as a nanny to allow Siri to work her long hours at the restaurant and Jon to supposedly meet the deadline on his book, life in the idyllic summer community takes a dire turn. One rainy July night, Milla disappears without a trace. After her remains are discovered and a suspect is identified, everyone who had any connection with her feels implicated in her tragedy and haunted by what they could have done to prevent it.

In this novel about life and love, rendered like a thriller, Ullmann captures a constellation of characters as complex as they are paradoxical—neither fully guilty nor fully innocent.

Order from these retailers

Your Independent Bookstore Barnes & Noble
ebook
Apple iBooks

Praise for The Cold Song

A magnificent, psychologically profound family novel that shows how minor lapses, secrets, and repressed desires can cause a major tragedy.
Annabelle (Switzerland)
Magnificently told by flashing back and forward in time, the novel is bleak, sad, emotional, and highly exciting.
Berliner Morgenpost
(Germany)
In her fifth novel, Ullman demonstrates her expertise in inhabiting the minds of complex characters, including Milla’s grieving parents; a neighbor who may have been the last to see Milla alive; Siri’s aging mother; Siri’s elder daughter, who has a violent temper; and, of course, the beleaguered couple, Siri and Jon. Readers who appreciate an unconventional narrative flow will find this a deeply moving story of troubled relationships and unsettled memories.
Booklist Online
Psychologically sophisticated, captivating entertainment.
Elle (Germany)
The fifth novel by an award-winning Norwegian author and critic deserves to win her a much larger stateside readership. The latest and best from Ullmann resists categorization, except as a literary page-turner. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a multigenerational psychodrama of a dysfunctional family. And it’s a very dark comedy of manners. Yet the authors command is such that it never reads like a pastiche or suffers from jarring shifts of tone.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
With Ullmann there is no false reconciliation—this, too, makes her novel so utterly convincing.
Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (Germany)
Intriguing…Ullmann teeters between dark comedy of manners and genuine psychological thriller, but she consistently captures the telling moments in everyday encounters, and writes seductively complex characters.
Publishers Weekly
Masterfully written about fragile love, deception, and guilt, and about the difficult art of protecting what is most precious.
Uppsala Nya Tidning (Sweden)
[Ullmann] is a skillful writer…If one were to perceive traces of a literary inheritance, contemporaries such as Siri Hustvedt and Joyce Carol Oates, or classic authors such as Virginia Woolf, would immediately come to mind.
Västerbottens-Kuriren (Sweden)
A skillfully constructed, exciting book about all that is kept secret in a family.
Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany)
Like a detective story, the young girl’s fate is slowly revealed and the intensity increases. Not one word or phrase seems redundant, the words flow easily between the pages with exceptional precision. Almost understated, with bizarre and humorous undertones, we are drawn into an Ullmannesque universe that we don’t want to leave.
– Anja Rålm, VG, six out of six points (Norway)
Two things stand out in this excellent book. The first is the seamless movement of multiple complex characters through several years of time plus flashbacks to a tragedy in Siri’s early childhood…The second is the impossibly perfect ending…Leo Tolstoy’s assessment of relationships, All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, rings true in The Cold Song. The ugly secrets and tragic deaths are peculiar to Jenny Brodal and those who surround her, but Linn Ullmann’s careful revelations and delicate timing are evocative and believable to all of us — from happy and unhappy families alike.
– BOOK REPORTER
Ullman demonstrates her expertise in inhabiting the minds of complex characters…Readers who appreciate an unconventional narrative flow will find this a deeply moving story of troubled relationships and unsettled memories.
– BOOKLIST
The Cold Song doesn’t so much as unfold as it revolves, around the sudden disappearance of Milla, the young and beautiful summer nanny hired to take care of Siri and Jon’s two children. The real ‘meat’ of the novel rests in its keen and unflinching exposure of the inner lives of its characters, revealed in brief narrative spurts that shift back and forth in time. The result is riveting.
– BOOKPAGE’S BOOK CASE BLOG
A terrifying novel that is difficult to put down…Ullmann combines keen everyday observations with an obscure crime, but the dialogues also pose a number of recurring philosophical questions. Where is the border between a lie and a narrative?…an alternately riveting, humorous, and thought-provoking novel that captivates.
– Bjørn Gabrielsen, Dagens Næringsliv (Norway)
…an intimate and evocative family drama that’s told like a thriller, and is all the more terrifying for its humanity and realism.
– Bustle.com
Compelling. All the way to the last page.
– Constanze Alt, Ostthüringer Zeitung (Germany)
…Linn Ullmann published an excellent, formidable novel this year…Ullmann is very good at evoking the peculiar, charged stasis of a household in which mentally active and intellectually vital people are resolutely failing to communicate with each other—the loneliness of communality, in short. She is a very exact writer, who is unsparing of her characters: a tonic, sharp, lyrical, intelligent novelist who deserves to be better-known in English.
– James Wood, The New Yorker
Although her language sparkles and shines, although she has a ruthless eye for human failings, although she succeeds in imparting something vital to the vilest of relationships, I would still claim that Linn Ullmann’s strength lies in her structural command … Her distinctive quality as a writer is quite simply—grace. And there is nothing simple about that.
– Jan Arnald, Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)
[The Cold Song is] a psychological tour de force—not a beat wrong. The ending crept up on me, so quiet and unexpected. It’s a brilliant scene, with everybody locked in character—in the huit clos finality of character—and it hits you the minute you put the book down. I stayed up half last night finishing it, and now I’m sitting bleary-eyed at my desk, paying for the pleasure.
– Jane Kramer, author of Europeans and The Politics of Memory
In The Cold Song, Linn Ullmann explores the events surrounding a young woman’s murder in brief, haunting flashes that imbue the intimacies and betrayals of family life with the brooding magic of a Grimm’s fairy tale. This delicate, mesmerizing work attests to Ullmann’s vast storytelling powers.
– Jennifer Egan, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award
Linn Ullmann has written a great and insightful novel…Every character is described with empathy and blindsiding psychological perception, with a story that is skillfully composed.
– Johannes H. Christensen, *Jyllands-Posten *(Denmark)
The fifth novel by an award-winning Norwegian author and critic deserves to win her a much larger stateside readership. The latest and best from Ullmann resists categorization, except as a literary page-turner. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a multigenerational psychodrama of a dysfunctional family. And it’s a very dark comedy of manners. Yet the author’s command is such that it never reads like a pastiche or suffers from jarring shifts of tone… [Ullmann] might be best known in this country as the daughter of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann, but her accomplishment here merits more than recognition by association.
– KIRKUS (Starred Review)
Linn Ullmann is a master at letting people and events hover and tremble between reality and something else…Has Linn Ullmann ever been so viciously funny as she is here?…The Cold Song has breadth, but also a compelling Nordic gravity.
– Lise Garsdal, Politiken (Denmark)
The prose is taut, yet the pace is languid as summer in that before-the-storm tension…The real achievement of this novel is Ullmann’s gift to imbue the tension of a thriller via the unease of the mundane… The Cold Song is more a mystery in the way most families tend to be mysteries unto themselves.
– MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
The Cold Song is fascinating, dense, profound.
– Maria Laura Giovagnini, Io Donna (Italy)
The discovery of a corpse, presumed to be a murder victim, comes very early in this involving fifth novel from Ullmann. But it serves mostly as a basis for the author’s subtle and menacing look at family dynamics…Ullmann teeters between dark comedy of manners and genuine psychological thriller, but she consistently captures the telling moments in everyday encounters, and writes seductively complex characters.
– PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
In her latest heart-stopper, internationally bestselling author Ullmann…combines a mysterious murder with a razor-sharp eye for family relationships.
– READER’S DIGEST, 7 Great Books from Small Presses That Are Worth Your Time
The Cold Song recounts the unfolding of a large tragedy that has already happened—the mysterious disappearance of Milla, an adolescent girl—while also showing the smaller tragedy of a faltering marriage. Combining the tension of a whodunit with the subtlety of a domestic drama, Ullmann’s riveting novel is measured, impeccably observed, and utterly chilling.
– Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch
The Cold Song is a jewel of a book.
– THE GUMSHOE REVIEW
[A] layer of human complexity …elevates Nordic noir to something more than simple genre fiction… Norwegian novelist Linn ­Ullmann’s masterful fifth novel The Cold Song, while not technically a crime thriller as such, is something of a case in point – borrowing elements of the genre but combining them with those of a subtle dark domestic drama, she’s written a technically adventurous hybrid that delivers in terms of complexity of characters, the darkness of an original Grimm’s fairy tale and the heightened atmosphere of a tense thriller.
– THE NATIONAL
[Ullmann] flits back and forth from character to character with cinematic ease…The Cold Song’s palpability chilled and captivated me in a way no blood splatter could. I didn’t blink.
– THE RIVETER
…steeped in dread the way a fruitcake is steeped in rum: Every page, every line, seems to glisten with vapors of sumptuous, intoxicating unease…Ullmann’s voice on the page is a lean, tough-minded thing, scrubbed and scoured of sentimentality straight through to the final, Carveresque pages, in which she pulls off an 11th-hour radiance, a tonal shift from minor to major key.
– The New York Times Book Review
The Cold Song is a fluid, shape-shifting novel, a family saga that turns into an erotically charged drama and then takes a darker turn into the terrain of a murder mystery. Linn Ullmann is an unusually talented and sympathetic writer, able to inhabit a wide range of characters and bring them all vividly to life.
– Tom Perrotta, author of Nine Inches: Stories and The Leftovers
[Ullmann] reinvent[s] the fairy tale…
– VOGUE
The death of a teenage au pair in a dark wood touches off Norwegian author Linn Ullmann’s breakout fifth novel, The Cold Song, in which the question of culpability unearths a treasure trove of tantalizing family secrets. Set at an elegant estate on Norway’s seacoast, this spare, irresistibly moody inquiry into one family’s collective memory is populated with richly ambiguous characters.
– VOGUE.com
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song is a haunting novel about all the ways we endeavor to love and be loved, and the many mistakes we can make while trying. It’s suspenseful and beautifully written and so absorbing that I could not put it down. When I finished reading it, I remained in a state of awe.
– Vendela Vida, author of The Lovers and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
Searing.
– W MAGAZINE
Contrary to popular belief, a death is not merely an end but the beginning of a story. The death in The Cold Song opens a Pandora’s box of human emotions, conflicts and deceptions. Readers of this novel will be reminded of the joys and complexities of living. Memories, laughter, gestures, trivialities—everything casts a shadow, and nothing leaves us safe. Linn Ullmann has mastered the art of seeing into the dark mysteries that make us who we are.
– Yiyun Li, award-winning author of The Vagrants and Kinder Than Solitude
Reading The Cold Song was an unforgettable experience. The novel is a remarkably composed puzzle, where the fragmented structure is not an experiment in deconstructing the traditional novel form. The Cold Song is an ingenious game with structural elements. The characters…are real human beings and the depiction of their pain and sorrow serve as…an attempt at a healing process.
– ekultura.hu (Hungary)
The Cold Song is a family history wrought with secrets, pain, and sorrow and the ‘lesson’ is: despite all the hardship, life will go on.
– olvasoterem.hu (Hungary)