Synopses & Reviews
A bestseller throughout Europe, THE EXCEPTION is a gripping dissection of the nature of evil and of the paranoia and obsessions that drive ordinary people to commit unthinkable acts.
Four women work together for a small nonprofit in Copenhagen that disseminates information on genocide. When two of them receive death threats, they immediately believe that they are being stalked by Mirko Zigic, a Serbian torturer and war criminal, whom they have recently profiled in their articles.
As the tensions mount among the women, their suspicions turn away from Zigic and toward each other. The threats increase and soon the office becomes a battlefield in which each of the womens move is suspect. Their obsession turns into a witch hunt as they resort to bullying and victimization.
Yet these are people who daily analyze cases of appalling cruelty on a worldwide scale, and who are intimate with the psychology of evil. The cruelty which the women have described from a safe distance is now revealed in their own world. They discover that none of them is exactly the person she seems to be. And then they learn that Interpol has traced Mirko Zigic to Denmark.
THE EXCEPTION is a unique and intelligent thriller, heralding Christian Jungersen as a gifted storyteller and keen observer of the human psyche.
"The slow burn of office politics can be just as riveting as international intrigue, as shown in Jungersen's second novel, his first to be translated into English. Iben, Malene and Camilla work in Copenhagen for the Danish Center for Information on Genocide. Even before Iben and Malene receive death threats with Nazi overtones, the three friends had been ostracizing the new librarian, Anne-Lise. Though evidence suggests Serbian war criminal Mirko Zigic has been sending the death threats, the paranoia and fear of the three friends converge to make Anne-Lise the target of rising suspicion. "Victimizing is part of human nature," Anne-Lise's doctor tells her when she seeks advice, and the novel hauntingly pursues this idea to its deepest implications. Can people fighting genocide display the same traits as war criminals? What does it mean to be evil? Jungersen (Thickets) explores these questions and others on a very personal level. A complex understanding of people turns what could have been pace-slowing conversations and reproductions of essays on genocide into fuel for a sometimes cruel but always intense page-turner. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Read The Exception on holiday, when it matters less if you cant sleep....Its a horribly vivid and fiendishly clever novel." The Independent (London)
"From the quiet, understated early chapters the story develops into a tense struggle for survival...it is a powerful yet disquieting study of the psychology of evil, and a tense thriller." Sunday Telegraph
"Jungersen has written a narrative of such verisimilitude and ambiguity that one can believe in the inevitability of viciousness in everyone. His masterly examination of the everyday impulse toward evil and the psychology of women in closed situations makes this a winner." Library Journal (starred review)
A bestseller throughout Europe, this unique and intelligent thriller delivers a gripping dissection of the nature of evil and of the paranoia and obsessions that drive ordinary people to commit unthinkable acts.
Four women work together for a small nonprofit that disseminates information on genocide. When two of them receive death threats, they immediately believe the messages come from one of the war criminals whom they have recently profiled in their articles. But as the tensions mount among the women, they discover that none of them is exactly the person they seem to be. Their obsession with tracking down the killer turns into a witch hunt: one by one, the women dismiss the idea that the threats were sent from the outside and begin to suspect each other, disclosing the jealousies and contempt that have been simmering just beneath the surface as they resort to bullying and victimization. Yet these are people who daily analyze cases of appalling cruelty on a worldwide scale, and who are intimate with the psychology of evil.
A tautly woven philosophical drama with all the trimmings of an electrifying murder mystery, THE EXCEPTION heralds Christian Jungersen as a gifted storyteller and keen observer of the human psyche.
About the Author
CHRISTIAN JUNGERSEN’s novel Thickets won the Best First Novel award in Denmark. THE EXCEPTION, his second novel, won Denmark’s prestigious Golden Laurels prize and is Jungersen’s English language debut. Born in Copenhagen, he now divides his time between Dublin, Ireland and New York City.
Reading Group Guide
1. The Exception
is a novel about the workplace and
it is a thriller. Do you feel that murder and death threats help to illustrate its issues of ostracism, maliciousness, and self-delusion — or do you feel thriller elements takes away from those concerns?
2. The books structure is divided into parts which alternate between the perspectives of each of the four female protagonists. As we, in turn, follow Iben, Malene, Anne-Lise, and Camilla, we realize that their perceptions of what is going on are mutually exclusive. Do you agree that one and the same reality can give rise to such irreconcilable understandings?
3. After reading each of their points of view, how does your own perception of each of the women change?
4. Iben and Malene write articles about the genocides of the twentieth century in which they examine the psychology of the perpetrators. How do their articles, which appear in the novel, further your understanding of the characters and their actions?
5. How does Anne-Lises work life affect her family life and vice versa? What might Anne-Lise have done to avoid her situation?
6. Do you think the conflicts would be different if the four main characters were men? What if their boss were female?
7. Do you see your work experiences, or those of people close to you, in a different light?
8. Why do you think Camilla is so passive? What are the deeper secrets that she is hiding? How is her marriage to Finn a struggle for survival?
9. Why does Iben hold a bleak view of mankind? Do you find that her philosophy has been undermined by the end of the novel? Do you agree, as Anne-Lises doctor says that “victimizing others is part of human nature”? What might make us think otherwise?
10. Are you 100% sure who committed the murder?
11. The Exception portrays the psychological games the women play with each other and with themselves. In what ways are the psychological mechanisms they use to deny or justify their actions similar to the behavior of genocide perpetrators?
12. To whom or what does “the exception” of the title refer? At what point in the novel is that made apparent? How does that inform the events in the novel?
13. Do you believe that our understanding of how ordinary people can commit genocidal atrocities risks our ability to recognize and deter genocides from occurring and taking a hard-line on the punishment of war criminals? Or do you believe this understanding is imperative for future prevention of genocides?