Select one of the keywords
The Exception    by Christian Jungersen order for
by Christian Jungersen
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Four women work for the Danish Centre for Genocide Information, a small nonprofit organization in Copenhagen, Denmark. The younger pair - Iben and Malene - have been close friends since their university days and, in fact, project manager Malene helped Iben to get the job of information officer at the DCIG. The others are the librarian, Anne-Lise, and Camilla, who acts as secretary to Paul, the head of the Center.

All of these women have fairly serious issues. When Iben was loaned to an aid organization in Kenya, she was one of a small group taken hostage near Nairobi for four days. Iben escaped briefly but returned to help her fellows, which led to a brief period of news interviews and treatment as a heroine on her return. Her beautiful friend Malene has severe rheumatoid arthritis, as well as a deteriorating relationship with her younger partner Rasmus. Librarian Anne-Lise feels ignored by the others and her isolation in the office disturbs her, to the extent that it affects her general mental health and her home life. Camilla was badly bullied as a child and has had past abusive relationships with men, one in particular with a disturbing past.

They have muddled along like this for some time, though Anne-Lise has been feeling increasingly desperate over the others' ganging up against her, while both Iben and Malene are interested in the same man, left-wing writer Gunnar Nielsen. But then a major stressor is tossed into their quiet pool, rippling out to affect each of them in different ways, all of them negative. Christian Jungersen reveals this to readers by alternating to show the same events from their varying points of view. The stressor comes as death threat emails to Malene and Iben. They initially believe the threats to have been sent by Serbian war criminal Mirko Zigic, whose atrocities they had featured in several articles. Then they begin to suspect each other and to engage in increasingly bizarre actions, reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. The author throws in a nasty twist at the end, in violent - but somehow fitting - repercussions to their actions.

If you enjoy intelligent novels that engage the mind as well as the emotions, then you must read The Exception. The work of the DCIG summarized in the novel - including studies of concentration camps in Germany and genocide in Bosnia - is totally fascinating and disturbing, especially the consideration of how exposure to such violence affects individuals. We're told that a small brave percentage refuse to be involved and accept the consequences, a majority obey orders but then go back to surface normality afterwards, and another small percentage continue to perpetrate acts of violence. The novel also highlights issues of office politics and shifting alliances that often target individuals for social bullying.

The Exception left me wondering about the individual's capacity for cruelty just as much as Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment did. At the end, I still wasn't entirely sure what really happened - as opposed to different perceptions and assumptions of what might have occurred (which is actually true to life). The Exception gave me a great deal to think about regarding the nature of good and evil, and reinforced my view that it's all about the small choices we make every day of our lives. This novel should top book group choices.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews