Resin by Ane Riel

Resin, by Danish author Ane Riel, is the story of Liv Horder, a little girl living on a remote peninsula with her parents. It's obvious from the start that something has gone badly wrong with the Horder family. We know at least one person has been murdered, and Liv herself has been reported dead by her father to the authorities despite being very much alive. We then learn about the increasingly dysfunctional generations of Horders that came before Liv, and the events leading up to Liv apparently being taken into care.

Sometimes we hear directly from Liv herself and sometimes we're shown notes written by Liv's late mother, bedridden by extreme weight gain and unable to leave a house that's been crammed to the ceiling with Jens' collected junk. But mostly, we hear the story from an omniscient narrator whose style has a slightly folk tale-ish quality to it. It certainly has some of the strangeness of a European fairy tale, and the forest setting, along with the slightly whimsical tone of the narrative, gives it a slight hint of the Brothers Grimm - to the point where it becomes easy to forget that this is a book set in the present day and references to helicopters and television are suddenly jarring. The Horder family are, literally, hoarders - I'm not sure if this is actually a more subtle reference in the original Danish, but in English this adds to the folkish style of the storytelling. I found the style of these sections somewhat distancing, however, and sometimes a slog to read - the sections from Liv's own point of view engaged me a lot more and I soon came to look forward to them.

The story itself starts as that of two brothers, Jens and Mogens Horder, the sons of a carpenter, Silas, and his wife Else. Mogens, the more wordly of the brothers, goes to live in the city where he becomes a successful inventor and businessman, while dreamy, anxious Jens remains on the peninsula, known as The Neck, and marries the pretty young housekeeper engaged by Else as he continues his father's tradition of furniture-making. Soon, Maria becomes pregnant with twins, Liv and Carl, but a tragedy strikes when the children are babies and Maria's already awkward relationship with Else breaks down. Already clearly unwell at this point, Jens retreats further and further into isolation and paranoia, taking his family with him.

One of the strengths of Resin is that it's clear how much Liv, who has almost no contact with anyone outside her own family, loves both her parents despite their painfully obvious shortcomings. As their situation becomes more and more dire, Liv continues to adore her father, even as he crams the house with dangerous rubbish, stops washing and grows more and more challenging in his behaviour. She shares his love of nature, his oneness with the forest and his fascination with preserving things forever, and she understands that his suffocating desire to keep her with him on The Neck at all costs is a manifestation of his intense of fear of loss - a fear that is also expressed in his reaction to death. It's common for children to love and defend parents who are abusive or neglectful, particularly if they've known nothing else, and this is very much apparent in this story.

There is much in Resin that I enjoyed, and there are some truly shocking moments in the book that somehow still rang terrifyingly true - at no point (sadly) did I find the excesses of Jens Horder's behaviour unbelievable in the context of his obvious psychological problems and I found Liv and Maria surprisingly credible too. It's also not all doom and gloom. There are some beautiful descriptions of nature and Liv's child's-eye view of the world is often charming and funny. But I didn't find I could lose myself in this book. There are sections that move very slowly indeed, and the folk-tale style of some of the narrative often made me feel as if I weren't fully absorbed in the book in the way I wanted to be and I found myself having to force myself to keep picking it up. I think it's a book that's at its strongest towards the end, but it took me a long time to get there.