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.

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw): Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list

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However, one afternoon something strange happened to the sky, and when the sky not only goes dark but also strange and is low and hard to read, this is a sign in itself, a sign of the worst.

The people on the island do not make the rules. The weather makes it for them, and they must cope accordingly.

Young Ingrid has an infectious laugh. She laughs all the time, until she goes away from the island to school. There, the first thing she learns is to swim; she also learns her alphabet and her numbers and sees herself in a big mirror for the first time.

You are not allowed to laugh in the classroom, for three reasons, the teacher counts on his long, thin fingers: it is disruptive, it is infectious and it looks stupid…Ingrid doesn’t understand what he means. Not being allowed to laugh when you need to is like being deprived of a leg. But life is hell, she does learn that at least, so she stops laughing and starts crying instead.

I am learning about a country of which I am ill aware: Norway. The open space must be wonderful, the sea’s power terrible, and the work arduous beyond belief. Just staying alive, and warm in the Winter, takes every day’s efforts. But, there is a certain beauty in a job well done, as only experienced,  wind-chapped hands know how to do.

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photo credit here

A correctly constructed peat stack is not only beautiful, like a man-made eye-catching attraction in the countryside, it is a work of art. A slapdash, hastily built stack, on the other hand, is a tragedy, which reveals its true nature at the worst possible moment, in January, when they wade through the snow with hand-woven baskets on their backs and discover the peat to be encrusted with ice, frozen rock solid.

I loved reading about this family on their island, catching and salting the fish, rowing the færing into the Trading Post on the mainland, caring for one another, as well as unexpected children who come their way. Jacobsen gives us a magnificent picture of life in Norway, but even better, to me, is the portrayal of family. Which need not be related by blood.

He also includes themes of dreams and regret, courage in the face of adversity, and how to survive the loss of something you aren’t even aware is being taken away from you.

This is yet another splendid book in what is proving to be a very powerful long list.

Find another review at 1st Reading’s Blog and David’s Book World.

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
Translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw
Published by Quercus on August 16, 2017
272 pages

the devil’s star by Jo Nesbø

‘The motive,’ Harry said. ‘Basic stuff, isn’t it? The motive, that’s where we start our investigation. It’s so fundamental that sometimes we forget it. Until one day, out of the blue, up he pops: the killer out of every detective’s worst nightmare. Or wet dream, all depending on how your head’s wired. And the nightmare is the killer who has no motive. Or to be more precise: who has no motive that is humanly possible to comprehend.’

‘Now you’re just painting a devil on the wall, Inspector Hole, aren’t you.’ Skarre looked round at the others. ‘We don’t know yet whether there is a motive behind these killings or not.’

Can you see the book tucked underneath the devil’s star? It’s Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire, and in my opinion that’s where she belongs: underneath Jo Nesbø‘s third book. In all the hullabaloo about Scandinavian crime writers, one must face the fact that for many, Nesbø does it best.

the devil’s star is filled with everything that makes this genre thrilling: psychological intrigue, gory crimes, and interpersonal struggles between the characters. Most interesting to me is the hero, Harry Hole, whom I wanted to scorn for his dependence on alcohol and yearning for pills, but couldn’t help admiring for his perseverance and skill. His despair over the relationship with his love, Rakel, let alone life itself, made him even more compelling to me than the murderer. About whom I cannot tell you much lest I spoil the surprises.

The surprises are abundant; interwoven between blood diamonds in the shape of a star, pentagons, and the occult, we find rituals, jealousy, subplots and danger, all of which make this novel riveting. If you liked Larsson’s work you’ll love Nesbø’s. If you wonder what all the fuss is about with The Girl Who Whatever, you’ll simply be amazed.

When people say that what I’ve done is insane, that my heart must be crippled inside, then I say: Whose heart is more crippled, the heart that cannot stop loving or the one that is loved but cannot return that love?