The Other Name by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls) A book on the Booker International Prize 2020 long-list unlike any other, and I loved it.

Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord by Hans Gude and Adolph Tidemand

…so yes, I was pretty good at languages, it was mathematical aptitude that I always had a problem with, and what I totally don’t have is a sense of direction, a sense of place, plus I’m so clumsy, so it’s true probably the only thing I could have ended up doing was painting pictures, and if I wanted to make a living I needed to paint, and that’s both good and all wrong, but that’s what I did and kept doing I painted picture after picture, I did that at least, and when I wasn’t painting I often spent hour after hour just sitting and staring into space, yes, I can sit for a long time and just stare into empty space, at nothing, and it’s sort of like something can come from the empty nothingness, like something real can come out of the nothingness, something that says a lot, and what it says can turn into a picture… (p. 211)

How do I explain how special this book is to me? I can see parts of myself, for one thing, within Asle. I see being poor at maths, and losing my sense of direction, and having languages come easily to me. I understand his desire to be alone, an introvert in the truest sense, but also the sorrow he feels at having lost his first wife.

He tells his story in one long, flowing stream, that reads with great fluidity. It feels that I am inside his head, thinking his thoughts, for which I found myself experiencing a great compassion. I like introspection. I like reflection. I like going over the events of my life, which seem to appear to me now as in a dream, much as they do to Asle.

He stops on the road and looks out over the park where a couple is swinging. He relates their dialogue, their walk, the way they lay down in the sand together, and it becomes clear that this is not a scene he is viewing, it is one that he is remembering. It pierced my heart with its tenderness.

He visits his friend who is an alcoholic (or, is this friend really him?), and finding this man fallen in the snow, makes sure that he gets a much needed drink in the Alehouse, but then goes to the clinic. Perhaps, he is caring for himself, the person he could have been had he not given up alcohol himself.

He is an artist, who first painted by copying the famous Norwegian painting above. And now, he has just completed two dripping lines which comprise the St. Andrew’s Cross. Fosse’s reference to religion is also quite moving to me, not that I am a Catholic, or repeat famous prayers over and over in my bed while holding the rosary between my thumb and forefinger. No, it is the exploration of God that intrigued me as I read.

And it was with mounting terror that I read the final portion of the book, the depiction of him as a young boy, going places by the harbor with his sister where their mother told them never to go. I felt her insistence that they return, and his determination to follow his own agenda, and I knew Something Bad Was Going to Happen.

As far as I am concerned, The Other Name is a perfect book, giving me something to think about deeply. It is a book to return to often, written in an elegant, compelling style, and I truly loved it.

4 thoughts on “The Other Name by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls) A book on the Booker International Prize 2020 long-list unlike any other, and I loved it.”

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