Back in 2011, Anders Breivik killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians, many of whom were adolescents, with a car bomb and then a sustained and barbaric attack using a variety of guns. At the time it shocked the world because, even though we are becoming somewhat used to acts of terrorism (what a strange and terrible thing to write), Breivik’s terrorism was of a different stripe. He was not a follower of radical Islam; quite the opposite. He was attacking what he called radical Marxism, the politically correct, left leaning media, intellectuals, Labour Party members, all of those people who had collaborated to introduce multiculturalism thereby rendering – or at least starting the process by which – native Norwegians would eventually become a minority in their own country.
Asne Seierstad, author of With their Backs to the World: Portraits from Serbia, The Bookseller of Kabul, A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal and The Angel of Grozny, has fashioned a sturdy and rigorous examination that manages to take in Ander’s life and the lives of some of his victims up to the fateful day on which the massacre takes place as well as the eventual trial and Ander’s experiences in prison (there is even a glimpse into the back and forth that resulted in Anders declining to be involved with the writing of the book). As you would expect, it is quite hard going at times – it certainly isn’t the kind of book that should be filed alongside the crasser examples of true life serial killers; this is, as we said, a sturdy, authoritative evaluation of what happened and why that manages to open a window on Norwegian society as a whole.
Whilst it doesn’t manage to be as even handed as some of the writing of Gitta Sereny (it would be worthwhile reading this book in tandem with Sereny’s masterpiece on Albert Speer, Albert Speer: His Battle with the Truth, the differences are subtle but important – Sereny is more of a humanist, she would have worked harder to lessen the impact of the more ridiculous elements of Anders’ character, she wouldn’t have wanted us to laugh at Anders – and in One of Us there are times when you can’t help but laugh at Anders’ delusions), it is a fascinating read and one that is likely to linger in the reader’s mind long after the book is closed (not least for the fact that Seierstad has donated all of the royalties from the book to a charity set up by the parents of those killed in the massacre).
Any Cop?: It’s been said before but the comparison is apposite – this is a book that aspires to do for Breivik what Truman Capote did for Hickock and Smith, and is stands the comparison well. Not for the faint hearted certainly (and actually likely to make even sturdy stomachs tremble at times), One of Us is a chilling, uncomfortable read but a book, all the same, that demands to be read.