Norwegian literature Part 2

I have now read twenty Norwegian novels in a row. To sum up a national literature, let alone an entire nation on the basis of reading twenty arbitrarily selected novels may seem foolhardy but nothing ventured….

The first point to make about these novels (and other Norwegian novels I have read) is that many of the main characters have what we might call dark souls, by which I mean they have mental health issues, do not fit in and/or tend to see the dark side of life. Now it may well be that you could take twenty arbitrarily selected novels from any other country and you would get a similar perception. Certainly twenty arbitrarily selected novels from many Eastern Europe countries would give you a similar outcome. And if you were to take twenty Swedish novels and films, I am sure the result would be similar. Doubtless there are comic Norwegian novels. Maybe they have just not been translated into English, with publishers feeling that doom and gloom sells better or is more serious, with comic novels often being considered frivolous. In short I did not laugh too much (though occasionally) when reading these novels. Of course, that does not mean that I did not enjoy them. Frankly I tend to prefer doom-and-gloom novels which says far more about me than about Norwegian novels.

When I started reading these novels, it seemed that in almost every novel someone visited a brothel but that turned out to be chance and there were definitely fewer brothels in the ones I read later. Similarly in the earlier novels, fathers had a propensity to beat their sons but that also disappeared later on.

One thing that did continue is that in most of the books one or more characters left Norway (and in some cases were never in it – four of the novels were set entirely out of Norway and three of those did not have any Norwegian characters.) Quite a few of the characters wanted to travel away from Norway, though Paris was quite popular, neighbouring Sweden and Denmark featured heavily, though some went further afield. In two of the novels, one of the characters meets a Tuareg, with not always satisfactory consequences. I am sure you could easily find twenty random novels from other countries where the characters rarely if ever leave their home country. Norway, as we know from this novel, is the sixtieth largest country by landmass, therefore, while not big it is not small either and is a very beautiful country, so why are they leaving?

World War II, not surprisingly, featured in a few novels. Norway was occupied by the Germans and this clearly had a profound effect on the country.

One other thing that I noticed is that many of the main characters were not motivated by money, status and conventional success but by other things, such as finding who they were and where they were going or just trying to make a life for themselves. Again, this is certainly not unique to Norwegian novels.

I try to avoid making best-of lists, not least, as in this case, I enjoyed all these novels. However, there were three I particularly enjoyed: Johan Harstad‘s Buzz Aldrin, Roy Jacobsen‘s Borders and Sigbjorn Holmebakk‘s The Carriage Stone.

Unlike previous years (and next year), all of these novels have been translated into English though some are easier to find than others.

2 thoughts on “Norwegian literature Part 2”

  1. I am impressed with your undertaking of reading 20 books in a row from one country! I have scrolled through to see what other Norwegian books you read. I was familiar with just over half of the authors (some I’ve read, others are on my TBR), but the rest were new to me. I appreciate the introduction to so many new-to-me Norwegian authors!

    I was wondering if maybe you could help with my current personal Scandinavian reading challenge? This year I am reading a book that takes place in Norway in each of the decades from 1900s to 2010s, either historical fiction or contemporary fiction written during the decade.

    Are there any standouts from your reading that you recommend for any particular decade? In particular I need ideas for the 1950s and 1970s, but welcome any recommendations. Thank you in advance!

    • A quick answer would be Gerd Brantenberg: Egalias døtre (UK: The Daughters of Egalia ; US: Egalia’s Daughters) (1977) and Axel Jensen: Ikaros – ung mann i Sahara (Icarus – A Young Man in Sahara) 1957. Both excellent books.


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