The Year of Living Danishly | Helen Russell
The Year of Living Danishly is the first non-fiction book I’ve read in *checks reading log, with creased line forming between brows at the slew of fiction books on the list, takes a deep breath* at least the past few years. During my brief but lovely time doing work experience at Icon Books I was surrounded by non-fiction and I picked it up there. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to avoid non-fiction for this long because as well as being really interesting, this book has been a very enjoyable read. The Danish are supposed to be the happiest people in the world, and this intrigued me as much as it did Russell.
“…our potential new home was officially the happiest country on earth.”
Russell, a journalist in real life, frames her journey to rural Jutland, Denmark with an introduction of her life in London. She describes being thirty-something, and not quite as together, not quite as happy as one should be by this stage in their life. She opens with the idea that she’s been feeling like something is missing when her husband approaches her with the opportunity to live in Denmark for a year. So Russell and her husband, who by the way is referred to throughout the text as “Lego-man” because yep, you’ve guessed it, he works for Lego, move to Denmark and our journey begins with Russell’s.
She divvies the 12(ish) chapters of her book to reflect their 12 months in the country, each chapter taking on a new theme. The chapters have their own coherent topics with connecting ideas threading their way through the book (heads up, Danes are big on tradition) and each month ends with a brief list of what Russell feels she has learnt about Denmark. This way of splitting up the book, despite if being fairly long at 368 pages, made it quite manageable to read in small chunks. The 12 chapters feature information from the way that the Danish feel about animals to their view on food to the uniquely Danish concept of “hygge”. There’s a lot on this concept – it’s about being warm and cosy and with family but I can’t do it the same justice that Russell does. She also interviews a lot of people during the course of her book including experts, locals and fellow immigrants living in Denmark giving a nice mixture between anecdotal evidence and statistics.
She is a very enjoyable (and very British) narrator. It often feels like she’s created a character for herself in the book, akin to a “chick-lit” book about a journalist adventuring a new land with new foreign concepts. Her fairly British approach coupled with the implication that Danish mentality is universal make for a really light-hearted and enjoyable read.
I guess the question is as an outsider, am I convinced? Is going Danish the way to go? At first, I felt that we should all move to Denmark. Denmark is the happiest country in the world for a reason ! The more I read, however, the more the cynic inside of me began to point out the flaws – well of course some things are that’s possible in Denmark – they only have a population of about 5 million and I’m sure they really wouldn’t want us there anyway (note: Russell’s adventures revealed some not-so warm feelings towards immigrants). So no, I’m not quite convinced that I should move to Denmark, however this balance of the good and bad parts of living Danishly brought a fresh sense of realism to the book that initially is a little lacking. It’s been a really interesting read and I think there’s definitely elements of living Danishly that we can all pick up from the book, but of course to do that you’ve got to give it a read first!
Happy reading! 🙂