‘The Jealousy Man‘ (2021) is a collection of twelve Jo Nesbø short stories (although not that short – the collection comes out at 504 pages) that are split into two parts under the themes of Jealousy and Power. This review covers the first seven stories.
I enjoyed all but one of these stories, From the title, I’d assumed that ‘The Jealousy Man’ would kick off the collection but it doesn’t and, although it’s the longest story, it wasn’t the one I enjoyed most. I found that, in this collection, the shorter the story was, the more kick it had.
I found myself fascinated by the different ways in which Jo Nesbø used jealousy as a catalyst to display the people we become when we let it take control.
I liked that each story was character-driven and that the characters and the way their jealousy manifested were wonderfully diverse. I was impressed that, while keeping the stories character-driven, Jo Nesbø, gave each story an extra twist, a little surprise that meant I could never be entirely sure what was happening in a story until I read the final page.
I’ve made brief spoiler-free comments on each story below.
I’m not sure why this story was picked to kick off the collection. ‘The Jealousy Man’ would have been the obvious choice for setting the theme for Part 1. Still, ‘London’ quickly let me know that the stories in this anthology would be original and difficult to predict. The idea behind the story, which I won’t give away here, is clever and cold. The storytelling style, in which the narrator speaks as if he is telling the story to the other participant in it, established an emotional distance from the action. The narrative itself was an object lesson in misdirection. I was fairly sure that I was reading a ‘Strangers On A Plane’ trope twist but what I actually got was something quite different and much grimmer.
The Jealousy Man
This story starts with an Athens Detective being called to a small Greek Island to establish whether a man has killed his twin brother or whether the twin is just missing. What followed was an atmospheric but slightly ponderous story about jealousy, murder and the impact of both on the murderer. The puzzle the story revolves around was clever and the exposition was done in a way that maximised the tension. I liked the complications added by having identical twins as the alleged victim and alleged murderer. What made the story exceptional was that the real focus of the story was on the Detective. Flashbacks to his early life were intercut with the exposition of his investigation into the missing bother in a way that illumined the investigation and explained how the Detective had come to be known as ‘The Jealousy Man’. The ending was unexpected but felt to me as if it was moving in slow motion. The whole story felt a little ponderous to me.
This story of an immigrant to Norway reacting to the outburst of an entitled and obnoxious customer was perfectly done. Ive seldom seen so much controlled anger packed into so few pages. I believed in the main character completely. I had no idea where the story was going but I was keen to find out. By the end, I was smiling because the outcome was unexpected but felt right, despite its consequences.
This is the story of a refuse collector with anger management issues, doing his early morning refuse collecting round while recovering from a killer hangover and trying to fill in the blanks in his memory of the night before.
He and the man who works with him, a Latvian immigrant who was a psychologist in a previous life, are drawn with great clarity. The conversation between them as they collect the refuse brought them to life and gave an insight into how jealousy and anger operate when they push everything else aside.
The exposition of events is so skilfully done and the outcome so surprising that I wanted to applaud it like a magic trick or a perfect piece of engineering.
This chilling story of cold-blooded murder is told as a monologue given by a suspect to a policeman investigating a fatal poisoning. As I’m sure I was supposed to, I took an immediate dislike to the suspect. I thought I had a handle on the story from the start, right up to the point where I realised I’d been completely blindsided – again – and that everything was worse than I’d imagined it to be. The tone reminded me of one of Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales Of The Unexpected’- menacing and dark beneath a polite, almost charming, surface.
Odd just about describes this story. It’s an author’s fantasy about becoming sought after by walking away from the media circus. I found it amusing but over-long and the ending left me with a ‘Really? You took me through all that just to get here?’ reaction.
The earring in this story is a little like Desdemona’s handkerchief but the taxi driver who finds it in the backseat of his cab and recognises it as his wife’s, needs no Iago to stoke his jealousy. There was a nice analogy here about holding on to things that you value the way a child holds on to the string of a balloon. What the taxi driver wants is to keep his wife. How he deals with the incriminating earring and the jealousy it arouses will determine if he gets what he wants or loses everything. I loved the way that the taxidriver’s fundamentally twisted thinking is made to seem normal and his actions almost inevitable (even though they caught me by surprise).