Tina Hopgood writes a letter to an archeologist, Peter Glob, who in the 60s dedicated a book to her and to her other classmates. The book was about the excavation of an extremely well preserved Iron Age man who was sacrificed in a bog in Denmark, The Tollund Man. Tina, not entirely happy with her life as it is, decides to revisit that past and ask Professor Glob a few questions about the Tollund man in her letter, after a lifetime of thinking she will visit the museum in Denmark where he is exhibited, but never finding the right time. Problem is, the man she is writing to has been dead for quite a few years, but the man currently occupying his position at Silkeborg Museum, Anders Larsen, gets the letter and decides to reply. Their correspondence takes off from there.
It is so long since the sacrifice was made, I was so young at the time, it took so many years for me to realize I had made it, that I can no longer say what, exactly, it was that I sacrificed; what it was that would have given me the satisfaction Edward feels every day. Perhaps it was the trip to Denmark—that could have been enough. But the blank space in my life feels too great to be overwritten by so slight an act.
I am beyond happy that I chose to listen to the audio version of this book. Most novels consists of more than monologue/dialogue, but in this book there is nothing but letters, ie long monologues going back and forth between two characters. Because of this, the readers, in a way, become their characters. At least for me as a listener they did. It felt like listening in on two strangers’ private conversation, thought without feeling like an intruder. The readers’ voices fit so perfectly with their characters’ personalities that it wasn’t hard to believe what they were reading. The woman voicing Tina was an older, sweet, thoughtful English woman, and the man voicing Anders was a Danish man with a slightly stiffer way of speaking, but not devoid of feeling. Scandinavians tend to be a bit reserved and seem colder and less friendly (at first glance at least), so I found the man reading Anders’ letters to be very believable and liked listening to it. Though it was stiffer and had a clear accent, it fitted with how I pictured the character to be.
We get to know them through the thoughts they share on life and through the stories they tell each other about themselves and their families. They share a sadness and an optimism that I found compelling, and the friendship they develop made me smile many times whilst listening to the story. I think I might have liked this a bit less if I had read the book, mainly because listening felt so intimate and made the characters and the story come to life for me, they felt somewhat like friends I kept coming back to whilst walking my dogs, making dinner, doing chores and taking the bus to work. They made all those experiences much more enjoyable. Just reading a paperback on the couch might not have made the same impression. I did like the musings on the Tollund man and what kind of a life he could have led, as well as the insight into different types of loneliness and betrayal the novel deals with. And the shifting perspectives from East Anglia to Silkeborg and Copenhagen was interesting. As a fellow Scandinavian I can relate to a lot of what Anders tells Tina about being Danish, whilst as an anglophile everything British seems familiar and homely to me somehow. It felt sad to leave them when the last letter was read.