Every year around this time, I read only books from one country. As we are hoping to visit Norway for the first time later this year, I have selected this country.
Norwegian literature is too vast to give anything more than a relatively brief summary, which I shall do, focussing on authors and works available in English. For English-speaking people, I suspect that Norwegian literature may be most familiar from three authors, none of whom I shall reading here. The first is Henrik Ibsen, the famous playwright. I read several of his major plays many years ago and have seen a production of A Doll’s House. James Joyce’s first published work was a review of Ibsen’s play When We Dead Awaken . Joyce studied Norwegian to be able to read Ibsen in the original.
Karl Ove Knausgård, known as Karl Ove Knausgaard in English, is the best-known living non-Scandi noir writer and I have not the faintest idea why. I have tried reading him and find his work stunningly boring but then, I must admit, the navel-gazing school of literature, also known as autofiction, does nothing for me. I accept that this is a matter of taste.
Before getting on to recent literature, there are a couple of key issues. For a long time Norway was under Danish control so, to all intentes and purposes there was no Norwegian literature. Ibsen called it the Four Hundred Years of Darkness. It lasted from 1387 to 1814. Before that there had been the the Eddic poems and Old Norse literature, which I shall not discuss.
The other key issue is that the Norwegian language has two forms. Bokmål is the language used by the majority of Norwegians, while far fewer speak/write in Nynorsk. As with most languages both have their regional variations. English-speaking readers do not need to overly concern themselves with this but it is well to be aware of it.
Moving on to the nineteenth century, the stand-out writer, as mentioned is Henrik Ibsen. However, though not well known outside Norway Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson won the Nobel Prize for literature and also wrote the lyrics for the Norwegian national anthem. For Norwegians he is their national poet.
Alexander Kielland was a succesful realist novelist. Some of his work is available in English. Jonas Lie was a novelist but also a poet and playwright and some of his work is readily available in English.
Another Norwegian novelist to win the Nobel Prize for literature was Knut Hamsun. His earliest works appeared in the nineteenth century but he was also writing in the early part of the twentieth century. His novels had considerable influence on a host of other writers. Most of his novels are readily available in English and he is perhaps best-known for Hunger. He is also known for being very anti-English and pro-Hitler during World War II. He was tried for treason after the war but was not convicted due to his age and mental health issues.
Moving on to the twentieth century, the first book I shall be reading is by Johan Bojer who wrote about the poor and the Norwegians who emigrated to the United States. Several of his works are available in English.
Olav Duun only missed the Nobel Prize by one vote. His six volume historical The People of Juvik was translated into English but is long since out of print and difficult to obtain.
Gabriel Scott was born in Scotland of Norwegian parents and is best known for his Markus theFisherman of which I have a copy but will not be reading this time. Like other Norwegian writers, he wrote about the simple people.
Cora Sandel, the first woman in this summary, is famous for her semi-autobiographical Alberta trilogy and I shall be reading the first one. All three are readily available in English.
The second woman is Sigrid Undset who is already on my site though not for her most famous work Kristin Lavransdatter but for her Olav Audunssøn trilogy, which is being retranslated and of which I have read the first two.
I have read and reviewed five of Tarjei Vesaas‘ novels and though I am not planning to read any more now, I may do so in the future.
I shall be reading a Jens Bjørneboe novel. Several of his novels have been translated into English but, not surprisingly, a few are out of print. He was a painter and a writer, described himself as an anarcho-nihilist and was highly critical of Norwegian and Western society.
Terje Stigen was a very prolific author of novels and short stories though only one novel and one collection of short stories have been translated into English. I have a copy of the novel but shall not be reading it this time.
I have read two of Finn Carling‘s novels, both of which are well worth reading and are readily available in English.
I shall be reading Axel Jensen this time, a man a critic described as Axel Jensen does not write for a popular audience, and his mystical language will probably not be understood or appreciated by many. A few of his books have been translated into English but all seem to be out of print.
Gerd Brantenberg is a feminist writer and I shall be reading her Daughters of Egalia. In this book, The female is defined as the normal and the male as the abnormal, subjugated sex. All words that are normally in masculine form are given in a feminine form, and vice versa.
A few of Knut Faldbakken‘s works have been translated into English – I shall be reading one – though most seem out of print. His son Matias Faldbakken is also a succesful author, including of the interestingly named The Cocka Hola Company which, despite the title being in English, has not been translated into English, though I have a copy in German.
I have read and reviewed three of Dag Solstad‘s novels, which I can highly recommend.
I have a couple of Herbjørg Wassmo books, which I shall not be reading this time. Three have been translated into English and two seem to be readily available.
Only one of Kjartan Fløgstad‘s novels has been translated into English and I shall be reading that. Dollar Road follows the development of Norwegian industrial society through two generations in the post-war period.
I have one of Edvard Hoem‘s novels but I shall not be reading it this time. He is described as a novelist, dramatist, lyricist, psalmist and government scholar. Three of his novels have been translated into English, including one being published around now.
Cecilie Løveid has written plays, children’s books and poetry as well as adult books , one of which I shall be reading.
Several of Per Petterson‘s have been translated into English and I shall be reading one.
Lars Saabye Christensen is half Danish, half Norwegian. Several of his works have been translated into English, most of which are readily available, and I shall be reading one.
Three of Jan Kjærstad‘s novels – a trilogy – have been translated into English and are readily available. I shall be reading one.
Several of Roy Jacobsen‘s novels have also been translated into English and are readily available. I shall be reading one.
Ingvar Ambjornsen has been extensively translated into German but only once into English (albeit under two different titles, one in the US and one in the UK, which I shall be reading.) His works tend to be about outsiders.
Anne B. Ragde is best-known for her novel Berlin Poplars which has been translated into several languages, including English. I have a copy but shall not be reading it this time.
Izzet Celasin is a Turkish immigrant who has Norwegian nationality and writes in Norwegian. His Black Sky, Black Sea won a prize for best political novel.
I have read and reviewed five of Jon Fosse‘s novels , which I can highly recommend.
I have read and reviewed one of Vigdis Hjorth‘s novels. One other one has been translated into English.
Five of Tomas Espedal‘s novels have been translated into English and I shall be reading one this time.
Only one of Merethe Lindstrøm‘s novels has been translated into English. I have a copy but shall not be reading it this time.
Three of Nikolaj Frobenius‘s novels have been translated into English and I shall be reading one of them about the Marquis de Sade.
Two of Erik Fosnes Hansen‘s books have been translated into English. I do not have either of them. His best known novel is about the musicians on the Titanic.
I actually have four of Linn Ulmann‘s novels, though I won’t be reading them this time. She is an accomplished novelist but also known as the daughter of film director Ingrid Berman and actress Liv Ullmann.
I have two of Erlend Loe‘s novels though I won’t be reading them this time. Wikipedia says of him that He has gained popularity in Scandinavia with his humorous and sometimes naïve novels, although his stories have become darker in tone, moving towards a more satirical criticism of modern Norwegian society.
I read one of Hanne Ørstavik‘s novels last year and enjoyed it.
I have one of Gunnhild Øyehaug‘s novels but won’t be reading it this time. She also writes stories, screenplays and poetry.
Leif Høghaug has not been translated into English but his novel Kælven has been translated into German. A summary of the book says nothing makes sense, a raven-black comedy about crime and punishment and that it is about toxic masculinity, guilt and access. Its casts consists of cowboys and angels and it mixes in Western sci-fi and mystery. I can’t wait for it to appear in English. Høghaug is also a poet and translator, who has translated The Communist Manifesto into Norwegian.
Helga Flatland writes both children’s and adult books. Her A Modern Family has been translated into English and is about a couple in their 70s who decide to divorce and the effect this has on their adult children.
Gøhril Gabrielsen‘s The Looking-Glass Sisters, a tragic love story about two sisters who cannot live with or without each other, has been translated into English as has her Ankomst.
Geir Gulliksen‘s The Story of a Marriage has been translated into English and is the story of a marriage breakdown.
Jenny Hval is nest-known in Norway as a singer but she is also a writer. Two of her novels have been translated into English wth the interesting titles Paradise Rot and Girls Against God.
Kim Leine was born in Norway but spent most of his adult life in Denmark and Greenland. His The Prophets of Eternal Fjord has been translated into English.
Maja Lunde is a children’s writer as well as writing for adults. She is also a keen climate change campaigner. Her The History of Bees has been translated into English.
Mona Høvring is a poet and a novelist. Her Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born certainly has an interesting title.
Agnes Ravatn is a journalist. Her novel The Bird Tribunal has been translated into English and several other languages.
Five of Stig Sæterbakken‘s novels have been published in English. As well as novels, he wrote poetry and essays. He sadly took his own life in 2012.
Yor Ulven was initially a poet but then turned to prose. His Replacement has been published in English. He, too, took his own life – in 1995. Knausgård was a fan.
Alfred Hauge is best-known for his fictionalised story of Cleng Peerson, an eager Norwegian immigrant to the United States. It has been translated into English, under the title of The True Saga of Cleng Peerson.
Svein Jarvoll, poet, essayist and novelist, has not been translated into English but his novel En australiareise [An Australian Journey] has been translated into German. It nearly made the cut this time but not quite. This book and Leif Høghaug’s Kælven, mentioned above, were translated by the wonderful Matthias Friedrich who has translated a few interesting novels into German from Norwegian.
Agnar Mykle started life as a teacher before becoming a writer. His The Song of the Red Ruby, translated into English, was highly controversial and initially banned for obscenity though that was overturned. The case had a profound effect on him and he became a recluse.
Henrik Nor-Hansen spends much of his time sailing round the world but his novel Termin has been translated into English.
Gunnar Staalesen is best-known for his Nordic noir novels but his mammoth historical Bergen trilogy nearly made the cut this time. It has not, however, been translated into English but has been translated into French. A thousand pages in French will have to wait for a future date.
Kjersti Skomsvold also made the cut. She writes poetry, novels , essays and short stories.
Cecilie Løveid is a playwright, poet and novelist. One of her novels – Sea Swell – nd one of her plays have been translated into English.
Only one of The Carriage Stone – has been translated into English. He was active in the movement to keep atomic weapons off Norwegian soil.
Another interesting Norwegian novelist who has also not been translated into English but has been translated into German is Erlend O. Nødtvedt. His novel Vestlandet has been described as a superb ode to western Norway and a pure celebration and relief for the soul.
Klara Hveberg is a mathematician by profession but her one novel – Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine – has been translated into English.
This should give you an idea of what twentieth and twenty-first century novels are available in English, though I am sure there are many more I have missed.