Category: Mental health

Najwa Barakat: مستر نون (Mister N)

The latest addition to my website is Najwa Barakat‘s مستر نون (Mister N). Mister N is a failed Lebanese writer who currently lives in a hotel, rarely leaving it. We gradually learn his story – horrors of the Lebanese Civil War, a mother he hated as she much preferred his older brother, Sa’id, now a successful businessman and a father who was a doctor, helping the poor and whom Mr N saw die. He has had two long-term relationships – the first dumped him and the second was with a Nepali prostitute whose pimp did not take kindly to him. One day he does leave the hotel (looking for a spare part for his toilet) and comes across Luhman. Luhman was a Civil War thug and murderer who died. More importantly, he was fictitious , a character in one of Mr. N’s books. Luhman keeps reappearing, his neighbours have serious mental health issues and he himself is increasingly unable to cope with life, language and people. Gradually we learn of his past and how he ended up in this hotel and who he and Luhman might really be. It is a splendid, complicated, colourful book.

Johan Harstad: Buzz Aldrin, hvor ble det av deg i alt mylderet? (‘Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?)

The latest addition to my website is Johan Harstad‘s Buzz Aldrin, hvor ble det av deg i alt mylderet? (‘Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?) Our hero Matthias does not want to stand out in the crowd. He wants to be second best, which is why his hero is Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, the one people forget. Matthias manages to get his life going. He works as a gardener for a nursery and has a live-in girlfriend, whom he met at school, though she will not agree to marry him. He is going to the Faroe Islands with his friends Jørn and Roar whose band is playing at a festival, with Matthias as the sound man. And then it suddenly all falls apart. For much of the book he is in a halfway house in a remote part of the Faroe Islands, where people with mental issues live and try to get their life back together. All of them (there are four plus the person in charge who has his own issues) struggle to get their lives back together, not helped when the government closes their facility down. Harstad goes deep into the souls of Matthias and the others and shows how, with a lot of effort, there is perhaps a way.

Ingvar Ambjørnsen: Brødre i blodet (UK: Beyond the Great Indoors; US: Elling)

The latest addition to my website is Ingvar Ambjørnsen‘s Brødre i blodet (UK: Beyond the Great Indoors; US: Elling). The book tells the story of two men- Elling and Kjell Barne – who have been in an institution, Elling, who lived alone with his mother and never went out and was unable to cope after her death and Kjell who hated his parents. They are now out in the world, sharing a flat and struggling to cope with the real world. While Ambjørnsen is certainly both sympathetic to and positive about the pair, he is not averse to gently mocking them, making the book both very funny as well as at times sad though never mawkish. However, unlike a lot of novels about mental health, this one is positive as the two struggle to join the world, with a little bit of help from their friends. This is the sixth novel Ambjørnsen has written about Elling and the only one translated into English and we learn more about his earlier and later life in the other books but this one very much stands on its own.

Richard Powers: Bewilderment

The latest addition to my website is Richard PowersBewilderment. This is another superb novel from Powers, about a widower, Theo, an astrobiologist bringing up a highly intelligent and very sensitive son, Robin who does not fit in and does not want to attend school. Indeed, he really wants to be another Greta Thunberg. To keep the authorities away Theo has Robin participate in an experiment which involves mapping the boy’s brain to another brain map, in this case his late mother’s. While it seems to work, there is an enemy, a Trump-like president who hates science, immigrants and civil liberties. The world is going to hell, while Theo tries to look beyond our world and Robin struggles with our flawed world. Highly recommended reading.

Olivier Targowla: Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope)

The latest addition to my website is Olivier Targowla‘s Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope). This is another fascinating discovery from the recently reborn Dalkey Archive Press. Narcisse has been in an institution for seventeen years. He does not seem to know why nor do we or the doctors. You’ve never had all the symptoms of a particular illness, but instead you have some symptoms of every one of a fairly large number of illnesses. He does not do much but he does have sex with a large number of nurses, not so much out of lust but because they want a child but no permanent man. Eventually, however, the doctors think they have have found out what his illness is and they suggest that he gradually reintegrate into society. The thought terrifies him. When he does go out, he struggles with the crowds, his relatives, whom he has not seen since he was in hospital and the lack of order and structure. Narcisse is Everyman. He wants order and structure and, if he does not have it, he needs help. This is another worthwhile addition to Dalkey’s collection of strange novels.

Gine Cornelia Pedersen: Null (Zero)

The latest addition to my website is Gine Cornelia Pedersen‘s Null (Zero). This is Pedersen’s first (of two) novels and she has since made a name for herself as a TV star in Norway. This novel tells the story of a Norwegian girl, aged ten at the start of the novel and aged twenty-one by the end, who starts off by being somewhat sociopathic and, passing through teenage bad behaviour, has serious mental problems, spending some time in an institution, before being released and ultimately heading for Peru. Drugs, drink casual sex, violent behaviour, depression are all part of her problem. The novel is told in the first person, often in single, staccato sentences, as we follow her descent into Hell. Pedersen does not analyse or explain but merely shows what the unnamed narrator goes through.

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