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**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (2007)
The Snowman directed by (2017) Tomas Alfredson
Growing up, my mom would always decorate the house per the holiday and even the different seasons, even down to the specific month. December was of course for Christmas decoration, but there wouldn’t be any snowmen out. Snowmen were reserved for January. I still associate snowmen with January, so in honor of my mom, thought it would be fitting to cover The Snowman while we are still in January. Having said that, this book and movie is not at all one my mom would like.
Thoughts on the Book
This is a detective story written in noir style I believe. Last year I read Finch, which is a sci-fi noir detective novel. There were a number of things about that book I just didn’t like, and reading The Snowman, I realized the things I didn’t like about Finch are common in noir novels apparently. It was overdramatic at times, one quote reading, “What’s going on?” Holm asked. “I honestly can’t get my head around this.” “Try,” Harry said. “Forget everything you thought you knew and try.”
There is a scene in Finch where the detective is tortured and it just seemed over the top. Harry Hole goes through some physically painful things, and the gruesomeness at times just seemed over the top, for shock value. Not to talk about Finch too much, since is supposed to be focusing on The Snowman, but another thing in this book that made me think of Finch is that Harry’s apartments is being overtaken by a fungus. When talking to Rakel I think, Harry says, “Apparently it’s eating me up. Brain, eyes, lungs, concentration. Sucking out colors and memory. The fungus is growing, I’m disappearing. It’s becoming me, I’m becoming it.” In Finch, characters are literally overtaken by fungus, so how could I not make that comparison haha. And I’m jumping ahead here, but in the movie I think it is shown that Mathias sneaks into Harry’s apartment thanks to the fungus thing. In the book I don’t remember if the fungus guy was legit or not…
But back to the book review, basically, what I’m saying is-I didn’t love this book. Those “noir” aspects aside, Hole just isn’t the cleverest guy out there and he accuses so many different people of being the snowman (which is what the serial killer is called) before finally narrowing it down to the real killer.
The book also dragged, as he is chasing one red herring after the next, I just wanted things to wrap up. On top of that, every woman in this book is portrayed in poor light. Each one cheats on their partner and in general just seem to be unstable liars. The men are also constantly sexualizing the different women. I get when it’s a character who we aren’t meant to like or it’s a seedy guy who you expect that from, but even the people I guess we are supposed to like do it as well. There is also a section that irrigated me where Hole is thinking back to when he was dating Rakel, how he would always come home late and she would be in bed. She would be upset at him but then they would have sex and all would be forgiven. Geez! There is another part where Katrine kind of hits on Harry and he turns her down. The next day he notices that she has softened towards him. It then reads, “Paradoxically, the episode at Fenris Bar had made her more relaxed with him. Perhaps that was a thing about attractive women: A rejection demanded their respect, made them trust you more.” Ugh!
Nesbo must think of all women as being very promiscuous and you just need to be good in bed and that’s all it takes to keep us happy and if you reject us and treat us poorly, we’ll respect you more. Oh, and more often than not, we lie about who the father of our child is. The movie thankfully doesn’t have all these sexist elements quite the way the book does.
I will say, this book did have some suspenseful moments where I was on the edge of my seat. However, that didn’t happen as often as I would have liked. There was one reveal that surprised me, but the other “twists and turns” that take place weren’t exciting because I had guessed long ago who the killer was and was just waiting on Hole! Granted, as a reader it was seemingly obvious, but I get that for Hole, being in that situation, wouldn’t have thought right away that it was his ex’s boyfriend.
I already wasn’t a huge fan of the book, but I still needed to watch the movie because that is the job I have assigned myself.
I went into the movie with low expectations because I haven’t heard a single good thing about this movie. (I chose to cover this topic because the book is very popular and I love Michael Fassbender. So even though I had low expectations for the movie, I had anticipated liking the book, and assumed even if the movie sucked, I would still see a great performance by Fassbender).
I read that there were fifteen pages of the script that never got filmed due to budget issues. Sounds like the director did the best he could with what he had to work with. Having this is mind, helped me go into the movie with less judgement, knowing it wasn’t what was in mind as the final product.
Even so, as much as I didn’t love the book, it was certainly much better than the movie! I didn’t really have an issue with the acting though, so I don’t have many complaints as far as they go.
Full disclosure as far as the movie goes, I watched it on my laptop and there were many times I had my Word document covering the screen because I didn’t want to see any disturbing images. This book ended up being a bit more graphic than I had expected, and I didn’t want to see anything in the movie that would give me nightmares. Some of the deaths aren’t the same with book and movie, but any time I could tell something gruesome was coming up, I covered the screen so I wouldn’t see it. So I won’t be getting in details as far as that type of thing goes.
Michael Fassbender is so well cast as Harry Hole. As I read, I could see him playing this character so perfectly. He does give a good performance, and it would be cool to see him in a role like this again but with a better script.
In book and movie Harry is an alcoholic. In the book though, this seemed like Nesbo was just like, hmm what can I add to the character of Harry to make him more interesting and complicated? Oh, I know! Let’s make him an alcoholic. It just didn’t feel real enough. For one, Hole has a bottle of Jim Bean stashed in his apartment in case he decides to drink again. I know not all alcoholics are the same, but what kind of newly sober alcoholic could have a bottle of liquor in his house and be able to resist drinking it??
Rebecca Ferguson plays Katrine Bratt, and again, is well cast.
Charlotte Gainsbourg is Hole’s ex-girlfriend, Rakel.
Jonas Karlsson is decent as Mathias.
J.K. Simmons is in the brief role of Arve Stop. Stop’s character is a big role in the book, but here he isn’t in much and his storyline just kind of ends and we never really learn what his deal was.
Val Kilmer is in the weird role of Gert Rafto. He was recovering from surgery and wasn’t able to talk, so his lines were all dubbed. Honestly, why didn’t they just cast someone else who could speak? The first scene we see him in, it seems very obvious it is dubbed. Rafto is also just kind of crazy in the movie, in the book he was an alcoholic, but seemed more “in control” than the movie shows. And yeah, his scenes just seemed kind of odd.
Rafto and Katrine
The reveal I was most surprised by in the book, was learning that Katrine was Rafto’s daughter. She transferred to Oslo, because she had heard of Harry Hole and wanted to trick him into finding out who her father’s killer was. By the way, in the book, Rafto was in charge of the investigation and then he ended up disappearing and the killings were pinned on him. Katrine was set on finding out who the real killer was and clearing her father’s name. In the movie, the killer made it appear that Rafto had committed suicide but Katrine said her father would never have killed himself. I don’t think the murder had been pinned on him though, so it wasn’t so much about clearing his name as it was just about finding his killer.
Anyway, Katrine sends Hole the note he receives from “the Snowman”. She knows based on the killer’s pattern, that he will kill soon so she sends Harry the note to hook him in. She also seeks him out once in the police station and says the boss told her to stick with Harry. In the movie, she doesn’t seem intent on Harry helping her with this case, it just kind of happens. She also did not send the note in the movie, it was the real Snowman who sent Harry the note.
In both book and movie, Katrine thinks Arve Stop is the killer and gets him to meet up with her after a party. In the movie, she is waiting in the hotel room to ambush him, when she instead is killed by the Snowman. This is very different from the book, where she meets up with Stop and kind of tortures him, trying to get him to admit to being the Snowman. She realizes it isn’t him after all, and hears Harry and the police arriving, so she jumps out the window. After this, Harry then thinks Katrine has been the Snowman all along and not only did she kill the women, she killed her own father.
Also, with Rafto, in the book his body isn’t found until Katrine and Harry go to Rafto’s cabin in Bergen and there find his body which has been in a freezer for ages. In the movie, Harry goes to Bergen alone and as said, in the movie the killer made it seem like he had committed suicide, so there was no missing body in the movie.
Speaking of which, often in the book the bodies were never found. This is because the killer-Mathias-takes the bodies to be used in his anatomy thing he does which is the perfect way to get rid of bodies.
The book and movie have the doctor Vetlesen, and in the book the children of the missing women all took their kids to him. We learn that Arve Stop fathered these children, and he has a rare genetic disease. He is worried about his secret offspring also having the sickness, so he has Vetlesen, who is known for his discretion, study the disease and give the children checkups.
Hole at one point thinks Vetlesen is the killer. Vetlesen is then found dead, having committed suicide by injecting himself with a kind of poison. They think he was indeed the Snowman and committed suicide because the police were on his tail.
In the movie this also happens where it is made to look like a suicide however Katrine doesn’t believe it and neither does Hole.
In the book, Vetlesen and Mathias knew each other from medical school and were friends. He fed Hole some truth about Vetlesen, mixing in some lies so that Hole would suspect Vetlesen.
In the book, when Mathias was a kid, he was with his mom when she drove to someone’s house and told him to wait in the car and she would only be ten minutes. She ends up being in there longer, and Mathias gets out and builds a snowman. He then climbs on the top of the snowman and can see in the window where he sees his mom having sex with a man who has no nipples. Mathias also doesn’t have nipples; due to a genetic disease he has. He realizes that man is his true father. He gets in the car and when his mom comes back and starts driving, he causes the car to crash and his mom dies but he escapes. He had some kind of personality disorder to begin with, and this event just makes it worse and he later begins to find other women who have illegitimate children who lie about who the father is. Each time building a snowman as he almost recreates this event from his childhood.
In the book, he lived with his mom and a man who he called his uncle would visit and was abusive to his mom and him. He ends up hearing that that man is actually is father, and the guy drives off and for some reason the mom drives after him with Mathias. They have a car accident and the car falls in the ice and his mom doesn’t try to escape because she would rather die.
In the movie, Mathias doesn’t have the genetic disease he had in the book. As Mathias grew older in the book, he started having more pain and knew that when the disease progressed, he would kill himself rather than have a painful death. Hole knows this, so when he and Mathias have their showdown, he doesn’t kill Mathias and wants him alive so that he can live the remainder of his days in pain basically.
One section from the book I did like is when Hole is talking to a retired cop or someone and when talking about Mathias and his personality disorder and how the court will take it easier on him because of it. The person says to Hole, “The more aged I become, the more I tend to the view that evil is evil, mental illness or no. We’re all more or less disposed to evil actions, but our disposition cannot exonerate us. For heaven’s sake, we’re all sick with personality disorders. And it’s our actions that define how sick we are.”
I totally agree with this. Even if the person can’t totally control their actions because of some disorder, they still shouldn’t be given a light punishment. Evil is evil! If someone has a disorder that causes it to be hard for them to control themselves and are putting people’s lives in danger, maybe all the more reason to give them the death penalty.
Anyway, in the movie it was about the women being unfaithful, but there were multiple women in the movie that had had abortions and they think the snowman is against abortions. This wasn’t the case in the book, all the women who were killed had children and abortion is never brought up.
The most suspenseful scene in the book, is when Harry finally realizes that Mathias is the Snowman. (He only had to accuse Vetlesen, Filip Becker, Arve Stop, and Katrine Bratt before finally narrowing it down *eye roll*). He calls Rakel (who in book and movie is dating Mathias, in the book we learn how Mathias sought her out as a way to toy with Harry Hole), he tells her to shut and lock all the doors. As Rakel is looking out the window she hears something behind her and sees the ceiling is leaking. She goes upstairs and finds a snowman has been built in the bedroom.
Mathias put Oleg in the freezer, however Oleg has his ice skates in there, unbeknownst to Mathias, and is able to cut his bonds and makes an air hole or something. Mathias then sets up a contraption with Rakel where when Harry opens the door she will die. Harry, after getting Oleg out of the freezer, sees the set up and long story short-he is able to save Rakel and only looses one finger in the process. He then goes after Mathias who plans to kill himself by jumping from a ski jump. But as said, Hole gets to him first and he is arrested.
In the movie, Mathias has Rakel and Oleg taped up and asks Harry questions and if Harry gets the answers wrong, Rakel comes closer and closer to being killed. However, Harry saves Rakel and Oleg (like the book, he looses a finger in the process), and then chases after Mathias who ends up falling through the ice and drowning.
Book or Movie
I don’t think I will ever read another book by Jo Nesbo, his kind of stories just aren’t up my alley. It also just wasn’t as engaging as I hoped. I did enjoy the detail we got into the characters, at least for the most part, but too many negatives that outweigh the positive. Having said that, I can see why others would like the book. Fans of the Harry Hole series may say that it’s not fair for me to judge the book, given I haven’t read the previous books in the Harry Hole series. Which might be true to some extent, but a lot of my complaints are about the style of the story and I don’t think having read previous books would make me feel different about it.
The book is obviously better than the movie though, which was just disjointed and had bad pacing and plot points that were never wrapped up.
Really, if you haven’t seen the movie, do not bother with it! If this piqued your interest in the book though, as I said, there are plenty of people who really liked it and you may be one of them!
Let me know in the comments if you have read this or other Harry Hole books and what you thought of it! If you have any questions in regard to the movie, that I didn’t talk about in this episode, comment down below and we can talk about it!