Review of ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ by Helen Russell

I knew little about Denmark before reading this book, so it was a very interesting introduction to the Danish people and an exploration of why they are apparently the happiest on the planet.

The author is a journalist whose husband (named Lego Man in this book) is offered a job at Lego HQ in Billund, a small town in Jutland. She’s not enjoying her life in London, her husband is really keen to give Denmark a go and she agrees to relocate for a year to see how they like it. Each chapter of the book covers a month in Denmark and looks at various aspects of society and the role that the state plays in the citizens’ happiness. There are some funny moments, which for me were the best bits as they illustrated the cultural differences. I ended up skim-reading the sections which repeated statistics about what percentage of Danes do this or that – these could have been reduced, as they soon become out of date and don’t contribute to the unique voice of the book.

The perspective is somewhat limited, partly because of the out-of-the-way place in which the author lived and partly because she and her husband, despite not knowing the Danish language when they arrived, are in a privileged position – they are white, blonde-haired, wealthy and somewhat sheltered. They are not too much at odds with a society described as ‘homogenous’. It’s not a comprehensive study of Danish society and should be considered a light read, despite the stats whipped out on every page.

This book did not persuade me to move to Denmark. While there are some really positive things about it, no way is it perfect. From the perspective of the book, there are so many rules for everything, long hours of darkness, ID health cards, unsentimentality towards animals, lax attitudes to fireworks, higher rates of violence against women, easy cheap divorces, very high taxes, that it has no appeal to me.

In summary, this is a good, informative and amusing read which occasionally has some less-than-thorough proofreading. There are no pictures included. The new edition was published in 2020 with a much-needed extra chapter which deals mainly with racism and nationalism. First published in 2015 by Icon Books.

4 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ by Helen Russell”

  1. I bought this book ages ago and never got around to reading it, but it looks really interesting, especially as it sounds like she doesn’t just idealise Denmark and all things hygge, but takes a critical look at some of the social problems too. Great review.

    1. You’re right, the book examines the pros and cons of living in Denmark, making it an interesting and valuable read. Of course it’s also a very personal perspective and it might be quite different from another writer or located in a different part of the country. Thanks! 🙂

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