A brilliantly twisty and unusual literary thriller for fans of Gillian Flynn, Jo Nesbø, Kate Atkinson and Tana French, which asks the question: Can you ever really shed your skin?
Liv has a lot of secrets. Late one night, in the aftermath of a party in the apartment she shares with two friends in Ålesund, she sees a python on a TV nature show and becomes obsessed with the idea of buying a snake as a pet. Soon Nero, a baby Burmese python, becomes the apartment's fourth roommate. As Liv bonds with Nero, she is struck by a desire that surprises her with its intensity. Finally she is safe.
Thirteen years later, in the nearby town of Kristiansund, Mariam Lind goes on a shopping trip with her eleven-year-old daughter, Iben. Following an argument Mariam storms off, expecting her young daughter to make her own way home . . . but she never does. Detective Roe Olsvik, new to the Kristiansund police department, is assigned to the case of Iben's disappearance. As he interrogates Mariam, he instantly suspects her - but there is much more to this case and these characters than their outer appearances would suggest.
A biting and constantly shifting tale of family secrets, rebirth and the legacy of trauma, Reptile Memoirs is a brilliant exploration of the cold-bloodedness of humanity.
"Neither Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), nor Paula Hawkins (Girl on the Train), nor Alex Michaelides (The Silent Patient) - to name some well-known examples from the last decade - can measure up to Ulstein . . . This debut is a great discovery . . . A thriller that really stands out." Aftenposten
"Ulstein has written the best and creepiest Norwegian crime debut in years . . . A novel that stands out due to both its dark, clever and intricate plot as well as the author's solid insight in the human mind." Adresseavisen
"A nerve-wrecking and highly original psychological thriller . . . The book is very hard to put down and if you do the plot will keep playing out in your mind." Dagbladet
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 30 members
As twisty as the coils of snakeskin that hang from a lamp in the story! Fans of Norwegian literature, here is a new entry fit for your shelf. It combines with hard-boiled noir of Jo Nesbø with the mundane uncanniness of Vigdis Hjorth!!
I liked this a lot, and it's certainly unusual. It has some divisive features (multiple timelines, multiple narrative perspectives, including one of an animal) but also the classic beats and twists of a noir thriller. The writing is very accessible, which helps because the shifts in time and perspective can be very confusing, but it comes together very satisfactorily. There is a certain amount of disbelief-suspension required, but this is the kind of book that can get away with it - slightly fantastical, slightly other-worldly. I think this is not for everyone, but for the right readers, it will really hit. My thanks to Atlantic Books and NetGalley for the ARC.
I really enjoyed this book, it was dark suspenseful and full of norwegian crime greatness. I couldnt put it down it was such a good read
I almost didn’t request to read this novel. The front cover put me off – with the title Reptile Memoirs and the image of a snake. It just didn’t look like my cup of tea somehow (although I love all animals). Then I read the description and thought it sounded like a good thriller. OK, so one of the characters has a pet snake. ‘It surely won’t figure much in the story …’, I thought. I thought wrong! The multiple timelines and narratives had me really confused during the first part of the book and I found I was constantly flipping backwards and forwards on my Kindle to try and work out where we were and what was happening. I must admit that at one point I almost gave up. It’s so easy with a book like this to quickly glance over the new section details (date and POV) because you can’t wait to carry on reading. With hindsight, at the beginning of each section or chapter or whatever they are, I should have jotted down the date with a few brief notes to remind me what had happened! Maybe it’s just me (because I’m old) but I sometimes got confused with the character names as well, especially as some began with the same letter. Roe/Ronja, Shahid/Sverre … I eventually worked out that if Roe’s boss was Shahid we were in 2017, but if his boss was Sverre we were back in time. Oh my lord. What surprised me was the POV of the python. It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it – a snake ‘speaking’ in a novel. What sounds even more ridiculous is that it was amazing and added so much to the story. There are several pages where he talks about breaking free from his egg, and I was totally fascinated. The writing was superb, the pace was fast, and the plot was incredibly clever with innumerable twists. At times I found the story very disturbing to the point of turning my stomach. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Please don’t let happen what I think is going to happen …’, but it did. A few words to describe this book – unique, dark and disturbing, gripping and very, very clever. Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for allowing me to read this ARC in return for an honest review.
Family secrets, past traumas and a terrible accident collide together to make an unusual and intriguing thriller. Liv shares an apartment in Alesund with two friends and together they buy a baby python, Nero. Liv is obsessed with Nero and although he was meant to be the household pet, she keeps him in her room and keeps her door locked. Some years later, Mariam Lind, the wife of a well-known politician, goes shopping with her eleven-year-old daughter, Iben. They argue over a magazine Iben wants, and Iben leaves her mother in the shop. Mariam expects to find Iben waiting for her in the car park and, when she doesn’t, she assumes Iben has decided to walk home alone. Mariam is both angry and conflicted about her relationship with her daughter, and drives off for the rest of the afternoon. When she returns home she finds that Iben never arrived – she disappeared en route. The police are called and it seems that one of them, Roe, has some secrets of his own which include a keen interest in Mariam’s past. A compelling read.
A mind-bending book with one of the most interesting and original new voices I’ve read in years. Dark and ambitious, it challenges the reader but rewards with a satisfying mid-point twist that turns everything on its head. Silje Ulstein is one to watch and Reptile Memoirs will worm its way into your mind and stay there for a long time.
Sinuous, sexual, and irresistibly dark, Reptile Memoirs successfully threw its coils around me. It weaves together two stories that, you come to realise, are inextricably bound together: in the past, a young woman named Liv becomes unhealthily obsessed with a python; in the present Mariam, a conflicted mother, comes under suspicion when her teenage daughter goes missing. Mariam and Liv seem to be quite different people, though it turns out they have far more in common than you first expect, and neither are particularly likeable. It makes it all the more challenging when you find points of relatability or empathy with them. For fans of Scandi Noir, Gillian Flynn, and having disconcerting staring contests with snakes, Reptile Memoirs is only partly about the thrilling crime at its heart, and is mostly about the ways women are monsters. What is the right way of being a mother? A lover? When is a fun time girl too much fun? How long can you hide your weirdness? And when does it become too weird? Although, of course, sometimes you might actually just be, you know, way too weird… And Ulstein is particularly good, via a tense yet lyrical translation, at articulating the strange slipping of thoughts, and the way they slip out of your control or loop back on themselves. I have exactly two complaints, one being the inclusion of a literal explanation for some of the dark impulses rocking our heroine(s) that robs Reptile Memoirs of what would otherwise have been a lovely Turn Of The Screw-esque uncertainty. The other is that the aforementioned weirdness ends up having quite a conventional source, and I would have rather preferred to see these characters just be grim, weird screw-ups on their own terms, not because someone else made them so. Monsters in their own right, as it were. Still, Reptile Memoirs asks some utterly compelling, uncomfortable questions about agency, sexuality, and self. As the two timelines wrap ever closer together, you feel the overwhelming pull towards what is a dreadful, inevitable conclusion. The whole book pulses with a muscular intent in the prose, with almost no energy wasted. I daresay it would be easier to resist a literal snake than this literary one.
Whilst the mix of detective story and psychological thriller is not such an unusual blend, the introduction of a pet python in ‘Reptile Memoirs’ brings an extremely unusual focus to this genre. Silje Ulstein gives us a well written, complex narrative, with a shifting timeline and multiple narrators to ensure that her disturbing story is only revealed little by little. What begins with the report of a missing daughter, takes us back over a decade to another unsolved crime and other bereft parents. Many of Ulstein’s characters are damaged people - this is not a story for the faint-hearted. Child abuse, murder, rape, and addiction all play their part. And, of course, there is the snake. As the python Nero grows so, too, does his appetite, and his owner has to take on the role of hunter-gatherer. Whilst the chapters narrated by the snake do not, in my opinion, strengthen the overall effect of the narrative, and there are the inevitable Freudian associations, such a device is a brave choice. ‘Reptile Memoirs’ takes a good, hard look at depravity, at how damaged people seldom make the right choices and why trauma creates a distorted view. This is not an easy read but it is a memorable one. My thanks to NetGalley and Atlantic Books, Grove Press UK for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.
Thank You to Netgalley and the publishers for an advance copy. A very interesting book that defies any easy classification. The basis of the plot is a missing girl and the police search to find her and this holds the story together. But this is not a run-of-the-mill crime book far from it. The past life of the mother Liv/Miriam is explored in detail and explores the different identities she has assumed. Through the center of the story, there is a python, the reptile of the title. In her earlier life, Liv has almost a sexual attraction to the snake and we are at various points treated to the things from the python's perspective. The changing identities of the mother are seen like the snake shedding its skin. This book is at times horrific , disturbing, and thought-provoking but never boring.
Liv shares an apartment with her two friends in two friends in Ålesund. Liz has a lot secrets. One day they see a python on a nature program. They decide to buy a Burmese python and call it Nero. Liz bonds with Nero and finally feels safe. Thirteen years later, Mariam Lind goes shopping with her eleven-year-0ld daughter Iben in Kristiansund. Following an argument betweem them , Mariam leaves and she presumes her daughter will find her own way home. When Mariam arrives home she finds her daughter has never arrived home. Detective Roe Olsvik new to the Kristiansund police department is sent to investigate. As Roe questions Mariam he becomes suspicious of her but there is much more behind this case and the people involved. We are various POV's in this book including the snake, Nero. This book is quite unqiue in it's own way. As I said above there are few POV's one of which is the snake, Nero. I haven't come across a lot of books which have a POV of reptile/animal, it seem to work for this book. This is quite a dark book as it touches on a lot of serious topics, so be prepared when going into the book. Liv I found at times hard to like but maybe that is the way the character was suppose to be written. I did guess what Mariam was hiding in her past but not Detective Roe Olsvik. I wouldn't automatically put this in the nordic noir/mystery as it had a different feel to it when reading. I wouldn't say I loved the book but I'm glad I was given a chance to read it as I said above it is quite the unqiue book. I received a ARC from Netgalley and Atlantic Books, Grove Press UK for an objection review.
Well, what an unusual story this was. Tale told from the perspective of multiple characters (including the reptile in the title) which added to the intrigue and twists in the storyline. I did struggle a little with the unfamiliar names (due to the Nordic author and me being from the UK) and the many names which need to be kept in mind as the story unfolded, but managed! Very different to the usual crime tales and I did enjoy it. Can see this being made into a TV drama or a movie. Will look out for other books from this author.
This is a refreshingly different style of literary thriller and is as twisty as the snake that features so prominently in the story. At first, I wasn't sure I would like it. The writing style is unusual with multiple narrators and timelines, but a few chapters in, I was totally hooked. There are scenes which aren't really credible, but this is fiction after all, and I could not put it down. Highly recommended. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC download of this novel. This is my unbiased review.
I would like to thank Netgalley and Atlantic Books for an advance copy of Reptile Memoirs, a stand-alone thriller set in Norway. Ålesund 2003. The very troubled Liv becomes obsessed with her python, Nero which she bought after watching a documentary. Kristiansund 2017. Mariam has a fight with her 11 year old daughter, Iben, who runs off and disappears. Detective Roe Olsvik has Mariam as his prime suspect. Reptile Memoirs is a most unusual novel, so kudos to the author for inventiveness and daring. I’ve been in a lather of indecision about my rating, because it is chock full of things I don’t like and yet I found it hypnotically compulsive. I finally chose the compulsion side, because even when it got annoying and I put it down, it wasn’t long before I picked it up again. The novel is quite disjointed, switching between timelines and points of view, although it is never particularly difficult to understand because each change is clearly marked with a name and date, except for the voice of the snake which is handily entitled reptile memoirs. I assume that this voice is a metaphor for something, but I couldn’t be bothered trying to work it out as I’m all about the story, not literary devices. I really liked the plot, which is basically the hunt for a child with extra bells and whistles. The problem is that it is character driven and dwells on thoughts and reactions, which would be ok, if it weren’t for the fact that the main characters are universally unpleasant. Nevertheless, they are strongly drawn and credible in their frailties. On the other hand I did like the way their secrets and misdeeds are teased out over the course of the novel and that is the root of my compulsion. I wanted to know where the novel was going. It should be noted that this is a dark novel and not for the faint hearted as there are several yucky (can’t think of a better word) scenes, mostly involving Nero, and it explores the worse side of human behaviour. It has fantastical elements, like Nero, but, underpinning it all is a good crime novel with a neat ending. I say neat in that it resolves most of the issues in a clever way with nothing being quite as it seems. Reptile Memoirs is an interesting read that I found both compulsive and repulsive in parts. I would read more from the author as I like her imagination and style, but I don’t think it will be for all readers.