Read from: 27th January
To: 09th February
Format: Kindle eBook
Length: 389 pages
The Year of Living Danishly is written by author Helen Russell. At the start of the book, she is a burnt-out London journalist whose husband secures a job working for Lego in rural Jutland in Denmark. Together, they decide that they are going to up and leave their hectic London lifestyle for 12 months in Denmark, aptly starting their yearlong adventure in January.
The book is broken up into 13 chapters – one for each month of the year plus one for Christmas – and each month takes on a different aspect of life, from food and children to taxes and traditions and is written more as an autobiography of this year of her life, as opposed to an objective piece of non-fiction, and it also explains the Danish word hygge, which is used when describing a feeling or moment that is particularly cosy.
I bought this ebook when Amazon had it in their daily deals and it was something I had been looking forward to reading for a long time before I actually did, and I can say that I wasn’t disappointed when I began the prose so here are my thoughts on it.
- The book contains a lot of facts about life in Denmark – did you know that Denmark topped the UK Office of National Statistics’ list of the world’s happiest nation? How about the fact that there are rules on “how often your flashing, properly attached, correctly positioned, Danish-standard approved lights should flash” on your bike? What about the fact that in Denmark, it is illegal to vandalise the flags of foreign nations but it is not illegal to burn the Danish flag? This book was filled with facts I would have never guessed and while I haven’t verified the validity of these facts, they definitely kept me entertained when I was reading the book!
- She doesn’t sugarcoat Denmark – one of the things I loved about the facts that she used were that she also included the bad ones, such as the fact that Denmark has a high percentage of women who say they have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. The fact that she uses the bad facts and figures seems to me as though she is trying to paint a true representative of Denmark, not just a picture-perfect country with no issues, which I appreciated.
- The alternative names were a bit confusing/boring/irritating – possibly to protect the privacy of her husband and her friends, she used nicknames such as Lego Man, American Mom, The Viking and Helena C. It was quirky to begin with but the more I read the book, the more irritating I found this, especially as I began to forget why she gave that name to The Viking and to Helena C. It didn’t detract too much from the content, however it was a small pet peeve.
- The author has a knack for storytelling – I personally really liked the way in which she told a lot of her stories, with her internal personal twist on the events she was describing, and there were some moments that made me laugh out loud as I made my way through the book. There were some moments where I didn’t feel the quality of the writing was outstanding, but on the whole I really enjoyed the overall tone.
- Everyone she interviewed was happy – take this as a good or a bad point, but during her year in Denmark, she contacted a variety of different people, each with a different expertise, and at some point in their conversation, she asked them how happy they were. I don’t think there was a person that rated themselves below an 8/10: it is amazing that all of these people have found happiness, but made me think how likely it would be for me to be able to find a bunch of people who rated themselves this highly, or whether it was perhaps just a Danish quirk. But maybe the Danes are truly the happiest nation in the world.
- I didn’t really take much away from the book – happiness is a very personal journey for me so I was hoping that I would be able to take away a lot from this book to apply it to my life, but I don’t feel as though I can. There are definitely some hints and tricks in the book but it seemed as though a lot of what she was saying was specific to life in Denmark with their turbulent weather, high taxes and trusting society. A few days/weeks after finishing the book and I realised that I can barely remember some of the things that had made her happy. Good thing she has a Top 10 tips for living Danishly at the back of the book for me to refresh my memory!
- The chapter lengths and topics are good – one of the things that I dislike about some non-fiction books is that it can feel as though certain chapters can really drag and don’t offer much content. Personally I found the chapters in this book to be a really good length, such that the chapters I enjoyed seemed long enough and had enough content in them to be interesting and the ones I was less enthusiastic about weren’t too long for me to endure. I also loved the variety of topics that she covered in her chapters and I really do think there are chapters to suit everyone’s hobbies and interests.
One of my favourite and memorable quotes from the book is positioned close to the beginning, when Helen is talking about her life as a London journalist.
“It also occurred to me that wishing away half your life in anticipation of retirement (albeit an awesome one) was verging on the medieval… So the fact that I was dreaming of retirement at the age of 33 was probably an indicator that something had to change.”
As I have said many times before, the journey to happiness is one that I hold close to my heart and it was thought provoking to read her feelings in regards to her work and her views on life definitely opened my eyes.
Overall rating: 8/10
Writing quality: 8/10
Feel good: 7/10
Recommend: I would definitely recommend this book, particularly to people who are on their own journey of happiness or who like experiencing cultural differences. Although I don’t feel as though I took as much away from this book as I would have liked, I think other people might be able to gain more from this book than I have and it would be interesting to learn their opinions on this book.
Have you read it? What did you think?