The latest addition to my website is Vigdis Hjorth‘s Leve posthornet! (Long Live the Post-Horn). Ellinor, our narrator, is a thirty-five year old woman, who owns a small PR company with Dag and Rolf. She is already going through a bad patch, when she learns that Dag has suddenly quit, without warning. Soon after, he is found dead, possibly suicide. Her sister’s miscarriage does not help and nor does her mundane relationship with Stein, who also seems to be having his problems. However, she gradually takes over Dag’s project, helping the Post Office trade union oppose an EU directive which would open up the postal service to full private sector competition. She gradually gets more and more involved, seeing both the value of the postal service, particularly in a country with remote parts, and also the feeling that she is fighting for an important cause. Hjorth tells an excellent story of a woman who overcomes what she describes as her Sylvia Plath moment, to be saved by the Post Office.
The latest addition to my website is Hariton Pushwagner‘s Soft City. This is the first graphic novel on my website, the only graphic novel by Norwegian artist, Hariton Pushwagner. With Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina making the Man Booker 2018 Longlst, I thought it time to have a look at a graphic novel and went for something different, not least because Drnaso has already garnered a lot of publicity.
Soft City is the day in the life of a family in a mega-city – think Brave New World meets Metropolis – where everybody looks the same and does the same things. We follow the husband as he and hundreds of others leave their high-rise flat to go and work for the Soft Company (maker of armaments and toxic chemicals). We see briefly what the armaments and chemicals can do. Then they all go home, watch TV (Western, violent war film) and go to bed. Pushwagner makes his point and the drawings are well-done but I prefer a novel with lots of words so don’t look for many more graphic novels on this site.
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.
The latest addition to my website is Dag Solstad‘s Armand V. (Armand V.). Armand is a Norwegian diplomat and we follow his life and career in this novel which is not a novel but merely the footnotes to a novel as the author abandoned the actual novel for various reasons. Armand was appointed an ambassador at age forty-two, one of the youngest Norwegian ambassadors. The key but certainly not only issue in the book is the conflict Armand faces between his public views as an ambassador and his private views, particularly as regards Norway’s relationship with the United States. However, this inner conflict spills out into his personal life, in his relationship with his son and his two (former) best friends. Solstad leads us on all sort of tangents but comes back both to this idea and the nature of his (lack of) novel. It might sound complicated but it more or less worked for me.
The latest addition to my website is Dag Solstad‘s T. Singer (T. Singer). This is the story of a man who, as usual for Solstad is ordinary but, when subject to more detailed scrutiny is less than ordinary and also a man who on the surface seems normal – job, marriage, social relations – but, in fact, gradually wishes to detach himself from life and other people, which he more or less does. Solstad peers beneath the surface of Singer and reveals a complex man but a man who wishes to be entirely self-sufficient, dependent on no-one. It is very well told and we cannot help but be fascinated by this ordinary but unusual man.
The latest addition to my website is Jon Fosse‘s Melancholia II (Melancholy II), a coda to his Melancholy, about the very real Norwegian painter Lars Hertervig. In this novel, Lars has died earlier in the year and we follow a day in the life of Oline his older sister. Oline is old, a widow and in not very good heath. She struggles through the day – her sister-in-law, for example, tells her that her other brother, Sivert, is dying – but spends much time reminiscing. She cannot remember who her many grandchildren are but she does remember Lars and his strange behaviour as a child and, indeed, as an adult. She also remembers her father’s at times irrational behaviour and the conflicts between father and son. But her time is coming near and it is her aching feet and her incontinence that also preoccupy her. Yes, it is a follow-up to the story of Lars but also about an old woman coming to the end of her life.
The latest addition to my website is Jon Fosse‘s Melancholia I (Melancholy). This book is about a real person, the Norwegian painter Lars Hertervig, though there is no indication in the English translation that he was real. Hertervig came from a poor background but was discovered and sponsored by a local businessman and was sent to study in Düsseldorf. There he had a mental breakdown and we follow a day in his life, when this breakdown is taking place. Fosse shows us his thinking – irrational, obsessed, insecure, rambling – as he is thrown out of his rented rooms for an improper relationship with the daughter of his landlady and mocked by his fellow art students. We later see him back in Norway, in a mental institution, still struggling with his demons. Fosse gives us a good portrait of his insanity and even shows us a contemporary writer (1991) struggling with writing about him.
The latest addition to my website is Lars Mytting‘s Svøm med dem som drukner (The Sixteen Trees of the Somme). This is a very well-told tale by the author of the definitive guide to wood-chopping, Norwegian Wood. Edvard Hirifjell lives with his grandfather on a remote farm in Norway. His parents died when he was three and his great-uncle Einar, his grandfather’s brother, was shot by the French resistance in 1944. However, he gradually finds out that his parents’ death is shrouded in mystery, that Einar may not be dead and that Einar may be somehow connected to his parents and their death. Having never even travelled to Oslo, he sets off for the Shetlands soon after his grandfather dies, leaving behind his girlfriend, who has reappeared after a long absence. From the Shetlands he goes, as the English title tells us, to the Somme where, after a lot of complications, both with the mystery and his love life, he more or less resolves the mystery. It is a very well-told tale by Mytting and a most enjoyable read.
Well, I am glad someone said it. While I have quite enjoyed the two volumes of Karl Ove Knausgård‘s six-volume My Struggle, I have been somehwat baffled that Knausgård has been hailed as the next big thing, possible Nobel Prize winner, a Norwegian Proust or Proustian, if you prefer, or even a modern Proust. In the national article linked, William Deresiewicz puts it much better than I can: The prose consists, for the most part, of a flat record of superficial detail, unenlivened by the touch of literary art: by simile or metaphor, syntactic complexity or linguistic compression, the development of symbols or elaboration of structures—by beauty, density or form. Nothing happens, for the most part, in the thinking, either—no insight into the situations being described, no penetration of the characters involved, no unexpected angles or perspectives/. While I might not go as far as that, I agree with him to a great extent. I am glad that I am not alone. So, for the record, Knausgård’s My Struggle (FFS, spell his name correctly, at least) is not a literary masterpiece, it is not the second coming of Proust (or Joyce or Woolf or Ibsen or anyone else) and is not Nobel Prize-worthy. Now, can we get back to reading real fiction, please?
The latest addition to my website is Karl Ove Knausgård‘s Min kamp. Andre book (Book Two: A Man In Love), the second in his six-volume My Struggle autobiographical novel series. As the third one is already out in English, I thought that I should get to this one sooner rather than later. While I admit that he writes well, I have to say that the autobiographical novel does not generally excite me. In this book, as the title indicates, he is in love but what the title does not say is that he is also the father of three children. I know what it is like to bring up children and reading about others doing it does not really excite me. Where he is interesting is in some of his semi-philosophical asides and, in particular, his continual criticisms of Sweden, somewhat surprising as, at the beginning of the novel, we learn that he has abandoned Norway and his first wife to go and live in Sweden, where he meets a Swedish woman whom he will fall in love with and marry. Even when his Swedish wife suggests that they go and live in Norway, primarily to escape their very unpleasant Russian neighbour, he declines. Like Knausgård, I shall struggle – to read all six of this series – though my struggle, like his, will be something of a tongue-in-cheek struggle.
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