The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting is a story about a family mystery that ranges over several countries and many years. Edvard lives with his grandfather in Norway who has brought him up when both his parents died when he was a child – an event which also has a mystery attached about how Edvard himself disappeared for several days. When his grandfather dies Edvard discovers more about his woodworking great uncle who was never mentioned but fought for the Germans in WW2. As he investigates his great uncle’s life he follows clues to Shetland and to France to unpick his family’s history and to find out about a hidden legacy.
This is a long book and a slow book – it is not an action novel. Normally I don’t mind this but I did feel that the pace was too slow in places and it was a book that I found easy to set down and more difficult to pick up again. Edvard is a bit of a nebulous character – I never worked out why he started on this quest and what he wanted to get out of it, In fact, I never really understood him at all. Not feeling a connection with the main character meant that the book never completely gripped me.
This book depends on Edvard finding out secrets from the past and linking them together and this seems to be quite easy. People have left clues all over the place and others seem very eager to help him (although at least one person has an ulterior motive and will betray him). What he uncovers is convoluted and, in my view, pretty far-fetched. I suppose I also found it difficult to connect with the value of unusual woods.
In all, I found this book disappointing. I was interested in what it told me about the Norwegians and their experience in the war as well their link to Shetland but that wasn’t enough to completely engage me in the story. This is a book that has proved very popular and is admired by many but it wasn’t to my taste – there just wasn’t enough to engage me and make me feel like anything really mattered.