Tag Archives: Norway

Mona Høvring, Nous sommes restées à fixer l’horizon

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En quatrième de couverture:

Nous sommes restées à fixer l’horizon est le premier roman de Mona Høvring traduit en français. Ouvrière travaillant dans une fonderie, Olivia vit entre une mère fantasque et pseudo-bourgeoise qui l’étouffe et un petit ami qui vient de la flanquer à la porte. Elle apprend que sa tante Ågot, décédée brusquement lors d’un voyage en Norvège, vient de lui céder sa maison à Reykjavík. Aux obsèques, Olivia fait par hasard la connaissance de Bé – les deux jeunes femmes tombent aussitôt sous le charme l’une de l’autre. Une nouveauté pour Olivia qui n’a jamais été amoureuse d’une femme. Elles décident alors de partir ensemble en Islande, dans cette maison gardée par Halldóra, une “amie” de la tante Ågot.

Avec son écriture lumineuse, amusée, sensuelle et poétique, Mona Høvring dessine un portrait de femme résolue à s’affranchir des obligations sociales et familiales pour suivre sa rébellion intérieure et vivre pleinement la vie qu’elle entend enfin mener. C’est le parcours d’une insoumise qui chemine vers son devenir.

Première phrase: “Ma tante a été enterrée un lundi.”

Dernière phrase: “J’ai soudain été démangée par l’envie de me battre avec elle.”

Ce roman est publié aux Éditions Noir sur Blanc dans la collection Notabilia, dont j’aime tant le design graphique. Incidemment, la firme qui fait le design est montréalaise (http://fr.paprika.com/projects/notabilia-romans/).

À 18 ans, Olivia fait une demande d’inscription à la faculté d’architecture de l’université de Trondheim et elle y est acceptée. C’était sans compter sur la nature manipulatrice de sa mère qui lui fait tout un cinéma sur ces origines modestes avec une faim permanente ainsi que sur la maladie dont elle est atteinte et qui ne lui laisse qu’un an à vivre. Elle ne veut pas perdre Olivia, qui renonce à son projet. Le niveau d’énergie de sa mère démentant le pronostic funeste, Olivia se doute bien qu’elle a été manipulée. Mais elle travaille désormais dans une aluminerie et poursuit sa vie. Nous la rencontrons alors que son petit ami la met à la porte et qu’elle emménage temporairement chez un collègue de travail. Au même moment, une tante domiciliée en Islande meurt lors d’un voyage en Norvège.

Lors des funérailles, par hasard, dans les toilettes publiques de l’hôtel où les proches se réunissent, Olivia rencontre une femme par laquelle elle est attirée. Le reste du roman est une quête de sens, entre les choix qui se présentent à Olivia: aller en Islande où elle possède maintenant une maison, explorer son attirance pour une femme, réfléchir sur son futur. Sans scènes de sexe explicites et sans mélodrame, Olivia trouve sa place avec l’aide bienveillante de l’ancienne compagne de sa tante.

En dépit des lubies et difficultés du personnage principal, l’auteur nous la fait aimer en présentant ses réflexions et réactions de façon tout à fait candide. Par conséquent, Olivia, qui aurait pu être tout à fait caricaturale, se trouve à être nuancée. Par contre, les portraits des autres personnages sont beaucoup moins développés et cet aspect m’a laissé sur ma faim.

J’ai trouvé ce livre en faisant ce que je fais habituellement quand j’entre dans une librairie: j’écume les tablettes de la section “Littérature étrangère” pour ramasser les livres d’auteurs scandinaves. Quand j’en vois un, je le prends parce que c’est rare que je vais voir le même livre deux fois.

Élément cocasse: La narratrice commente que les faire-part de décès qui sont publiés avec une photo sont selon elle intrigants, sinistres et répugnants. Ces publications sont souvent faite de cette façon, souvent avec des photos de jeunesse. Ces coutumes diffèrent par culture.

Référence:

Høvring, Mona. Nous sommes restées à fixer l’horizon. Éditions Noir sur Blanc, Paris, 2016. [Publication originale en norvégien en 2012]

Autres choses:

http://litterature-romande.net/nous-sommes-restees-fixer-horizon-mona-hovring/

http://next.liberation.fr/livres/2016/03/18/mona-hvring-vertiges-de-l-amour_1440557

Continuing Love Affair With Literature From Cold Countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland

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In 2012, I planned a trip to Stockholm. I had been reading Swedish police procedural and noir for some time and I had a lifelong fascination with Scandinavia, thanks to the Puck novels by “Lisbeth Werner”, a pseudonym for two Danish writers (who wrote novels for girls”).

In order to prepare for the trip, I came up with a reading list (see here). That was quite a lot of fun and very educational. I have continued reading a variety of authors from the region, expanding beyond Sweden.

The current to-be-read pile is quite impressive at this point, and I am hoping to get through some of it in 2017 (while most likely growing the pile in the meantime!).

Here we are in random order:

Aki Ollikainen. La faim blanche. (Finland)

Jonas Karlsson. La pièce. (Sweden)

Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir. L’embellie. (Iceland)

Carl-Johan Vallgren. Les aventures fantastique d’Hercule Barfuss. (Sweden).

Tarjei Vesaas. The Boat in the Evening. (Norway)

Tom Malmquist. À tout moment la vie. (Sweden)

Agneta Pleijel. Fungi. (Sweden)

Guđrún Eva Mínervudóttir. Album. (Iceland)

Tomas Espedal. Marcher (ou l’art de mener une vie déréglée et poétique). (Sweden)

Sara Lövestam. En route vers toi. (Sweden)

Audur Jónsdóttir. Tourner la page. (Iceland)

Eiríkur Örn Norđdahl. Illska. (Iceland)

Kim Leine. Les prophètes du fjord de l’Éternité. (Denmark)

Alexander Söderberg. The Andalucian Friend. (Sweden)

Lars Gustafsson. Bernard Foy’s Third Castling. (Sweden)

Kerstin Thorvall. Le sacrifice d’Hilma. (Sweden)

Anna Jörgensdotter. Discordance. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. Le départ des musiciens. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. Le second. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. L’ange déchu. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. La bibliothèque du capitaine Nemo. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. La parole du désert. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. L’oratorio de Noël. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. Le voleur de bible. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. De planète en planète. (Sweden)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Entre ciel et terre. (Iceland)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. La tristesse des anges. (Iceland)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Le coeur de l’homme. (Iceland)

Jan Guillou. Les ingénieurs du bout du monde. (Sweden)

Kristina Ohlsson. The Disappeared. (Sweden)

Anne B. Ragde. La tour d’arsenic. (Norway)

Insane, you are thinking? Nothing like a list to make that quite obvious, I say. And the authors are still mostly from Sweden, which somewhat surprises me… It was hard to tell without making the list. That is 31 books, some of which are sizable tomes and/or challenging reads.

Please do let me know if you have any other suggestions for the future. I doubt the obsession will ever abate.

Jo Nesbo, Cockroaches

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I was on vacation and travelling and fully intended to spend a lot of time reading. However, I ended up spending tons more time hanging around with family and a lot less time reading than I expected. I was trying to crunch through Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda, as I thought I should, after all one should get through some serious reading while on vacation, right?

As my frustration with progression through that book grew, I decided to read something else and somehow got into Jo Nesbo’s Cockroaches, a mystery novel featuring detective Harry Hole set in Thailand. Harry is a seriously messed up character, with drinking problems, family issues, and a messy love life.  When the Noervegian ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a shady Bangkok motel, Harry is sent over to investigats, although it sounds more like he is expected to make sure that the case goes away quietly. Of course, things don’t go as planned. The ambassador’s past is somewhat complicated, his wife’s issues also play into the somewhat surprising denouement, as well as their handicapped daughter’s dreams and the business plans of a Norwegian businessman who is also the lover of the ambassador’s wife, a mysterious business man running some of Thailand’s most ambitious construvction projects, and a former military intelligence officer turned freelancer.

When all seems to have gotten resolved, Harry realizes that they have everything wr ong and the race keeps on… When all unravels, Harry who had managed to stay sober through the investigation ends in what looks liie an opium den and keeps fighting his demons.

 This is the second Harry Hole novel by Jo Nesbo. Originally published in 1998, it was only translated into English in 2013. So far, nothing has equalled The Redbreast in my opinion. I will keep reading.

 

 

 

Ketil Bjørnstad, La Société des jeunes pianistes

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Ce roman ramène quelques souvenirs de mes études en musique quoique je n’aie jamais joué au niveau de ces jeunes pianistes qui sont à la veille de se lancer, de donner leur premier concert public. Les heures interminables de pratique, la technique, l’interprétation qui se veut originale et non une imitation d’un autre interprète, le choix si important du bon professeur, le snobisme du choix des pièces, de la marque de piano qu’on possède, la tenue de concert…

Situé à Oslo vers la fin des années 1960, ce roman initiatique raconte le passage hors de l’enfance et vers un futur incertain d’un groupe de jeunes pianistes de la capitale norvégienne.

Le personnage principal est Aksel, 17 ans, pianiste qui a abandonné l’école pour se consacrer au piano. Lui et sa sœur aînée Cathrine vivent avec leurs parents, qui ont tous les deux une carrière décevante, et des problèmes d’argent et de consommation d’alcool. La mère meurt par noyade lors d’un picnic familial et il est difficile de penser que ça n’était pas intentionnel.

Les amis d’Aksel, tous pianistes, se rencontrent pour écouter de la musique, pour en jouer et pour discuter de l’évolution de chacun d’entre eux. Chaque membre du groupe est obsédé par le moment où il ou elle devra « se lancer », rite de passage on ne peut plus classique, souvent cruel par les déceptions qu’il provoque, mais aussi transformateur pour certains.

Aksel est par ailleurs obsédé par Anja la mystérieuse, qui habite dans la même partie de la ville que lui. Il la connaît de vue et ignore qu’elle est également pianiste. Il découvre éventuellement qu’elle l’est, et qui plus est, qu’elle est une virtuose en puissance. Il s’installe alors entre eux une amitié ambigüe doublée d’une rivalité. Aksel aimerait se rapprocher d’elle, mais elle est constamment protégé par sa famille et vit comme dans une bulle. On nous laisse entendre que la relation qu’elle entretient avec son père serait malsaine.

L’autre relation troublante dans la vie d’Anja est celle avec son professeur de piano, la sulfureuse Selma, grande virtuose allemande qui a mis sa carrière en veilleuse pour épouser un étrange professeur de philosophie norvégien. Il court également des rumeurs sur la préférence de Selma pour les très jeunes hommes. Aksel deviendra aussi éventuellement un de ses protégés.

Au final, Anja connaîtra une fin tragique dont Aksel ne pourra la sauver, car elle ne peut se remettre de ne pas avoir été parfaite lors de son premier concert.

L’épilogue m’a certainement laissé sur ma faim… Aksel s’engage sur une pente glissante qui ne peut être que le début d’une autre histoire, une initiation à d’autres aspects de la vie. À la fin, plus de points d’interrogation que de réponses…

 

Référence

Bjørnstad, Ketil. La Société des  jeunes pianistes. JC Lattès, 2006. (originalement publié en norvégien en 2004)

Falling to Earth, by Kate Southwood

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Falling to Earth, Kate Southwood

I am fascinated by natural catastrophe movies. So why not a catastrophe book? Blogger and author Julie Christine (chalkthesun.org) reviewed this book and I was inspired to read it.

This is Kate Southwood’s first novel. She found her inspiration in the Tri-State tornado, part of a family of tornadoes that wreaked havoc in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana on March 18, 1925. In fact, that is the starting date of this book and the action is set in the fictitious town of Marah. The storm is approaching town and Paul Graves sees it coming as he stands outside his lumberyard in downtown Marah. There is little time to go anywhere else, so he clings to a telegraph pole and keeps his body low to the ground. Miraculously, not only does he manage to hang on but he also escapes injury from flying objects. This is not the first miracle of the day. While many die or are injured in the storm, others lose all their worldly goods. Paul’s family, on the other hand, escapes unscathed. All family members, the house, the business… nothing is lost.

Paul is grateful for his good fortune but many of his friends were grievously affected. He actively participates in recovering children’s bodies from the collapsed school (his children escaped the same fate because they were home sick that day). He also takes part in clean up efforts. His porch is used to pile up recovered bodies before they can be buried, and he and his family shelter some of their homeless neighbours. The whole family is very careful not to flaunt their luck in front of others; they are acutely conscious of their exceptional situation.

In spite of their helpfulness to others, tongues start wagging. They are somehow blamed for their luck. Paul is even accused of profiting from others’ misfortunes. His business is making money from selling wood for coffins as well as materials for the town reconstruction. The family is ostracised and townspeople start ordering wood from the neighbouring town.

Beyond the retelling of the events and their aftermath, Southwood explores the depth of human spirit and resilience. But she also looks at what envy and resentment can lead to and the deeply unsettling effects it can have on its victims. Paul’s wife, Mae, can hardly come out of the house any more, she cannot face their neighbors and slowly sinks into what looks like a deep depression, she gets into “her moods”, Southwood says. This is complicated by some degree of obsessive-compulsive disorder she may have inherited from her mother. Her social isolation may be another contributing factor: she is an orphan (both her parents have passed), her best friend died in the storm, and they are treated increasingly poorly by their neighbours. The children also suffer greatly and they are even more ill-equipped than their mother to voice their feelings and deal with them. The family turns inward but its members seem to become strangers to each other. What will it take to turn things around?

This book does not have a fairy tale ending, but it does hint at the fact that there may still be a glimmer of hope even in very dark situations.

My fascination with natural catastrophes has as much to do with admiring how the human spirit can overcome difficulties as with the awe-inspiring power of nature. This book focuses on the former in a masterful way. The pace is slow but so are the meanders that the minds of the main characters go through as they struggle to make sense of experience. This slow journey from perception and emotion, to comprehension, and to full understanding is depicted in delicate strokes that show all the nuances and contradictions of the human mind and heart.

And I learned a word! I always thought (well, maybe not always since I have not always spoken English) of things diagonally across each other as “kitty corner”. Southwood uses “catty corner”. In fact, in can also be “catercorner”. Oh my, the complexity of the English language…

References

Southwood, Kate. Falling to Earth. Europa Editions, New York, NY, 2013.

Doppler, by Erlend Loe

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Andreas Doppler is around 35 and he is many things. He says:

I am a cyclist. And I’m a husband and a father and a son and an employee. And a house owner. And lots of things. We are so many things.

And all of a sudden, it all seems to be too much. His father dies. He takes a bad spill on his bike. And everything changes.

He decides to change his life and to live in the forest just outside Oslo. In his need for sustenance, he kills a big moose who happens to be a female with a small moose. The small moose “adopts” Doppler and sticks around. Doppler eventually decides to call him Bongo. Bongo follows him everywhere and even sleeps in his tent.

While Doppler decides to drop out of the rat race, he somehow maintains some relationship to his family and occasionally takes care of his young son Gregus, who spends time with him in the forest. Following a visit to her husband early in his stay in the forest, Doppler’s wife gets pregnant. However, Doppler seems not to feel a sense of responsibility for this event. Even after his brother-in-law threatens him if he does not return to his family and take his responsibilities, he does not feel compelled to do so.

Although Doppler stays in the forest in an attempt to remove himself from the obligations of living in society, Doppler still attracts others such as a depressive model builder, a house robber, and a reformed reactionary turned peace-lover.

The book cover says that this is “an enchanting modern fable about one man and his moose.” Well, what is the importance of the moose?

Bongo provides him with an excuse to stay in the forest, a focus for his energy. In effect, it anchors him there. Through Bongo, he can relate to the forest and its other inhabitants. It also keeps him from killing another moose.

Bongo could also be understood as the concrete manifestation of his conscience. Bongo is there to force him to reflect on his actions and their consequences.

Alternatively, Bongo could stand in for his sense of innocence, his primal being. He often says that Bongo is not very bright and does not understand certain things. But Bongo also seems to understand some essential aspects of life, such as survival.

Through the winter, Doppler sculpts a totem that represents him, his father, his son and Bongo. This totem illustrates, for the entire world to see, the essential relationships in his life, that form the foundation on which he can stand even if he feels alone. Once the totem is finished, he can finally move on. Which does not mean he will return to his former life.

 

References:

Loe, Erlend, Doppler, Anansi International, 2012. Originally published in Norwegian in 2004.

A quick preview of Doppler by Erlend Loe

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We have been visiting my in-laws as part of our vacation and I’ve been spending time with my sister-in-law who is one fo the coolest persons I know. We have been going to fitness and yoga classes together (some that she teaches and some that she attends). She is also a retired school teacher and she loves to read. So, last night, she hands me this book and tells me that I should be able to read that in a day (well, maybe not…) and that I should love it.

And she said that it was a story about a man and a moose and that she woud say no more… Well, it is a book called Doppler by Erlend Loe who is a celebrated Norwegian writer who has been translated in many languages. He is known for writing naïve satirical novels. This book has two characteristics that make it a likely hit for me: one, it’s Scandinavian; two, it’s quirky. So I dug into it last night and although I was tired and needed to go to sleep fairly early, I am already quite enthused with what I managed to read. So more about it later… for now let me just say that it’s a quirky book about a man and a moose…

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erlend_Loe

 http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/doppler-by-erlend-loe-translated-by-don-bartlett-and-don-shaw-8386365.html

Tarjei Vesaas and the Ice Palace

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 In the MOOC on The Fiction of Relationship, we had one book assigned by a Norwegian writer, Tarjei Vesaas, whom I had never heard about and is now on my “must read” list. The style of writing, terse and poetic, is just the kind of thing that strikes my fancy.

The plot is rather simple: Two little girls have a nascent friendship. One of them disappears without a trace and the other is left to grieve for her lost friend. She isolates herself in an effort to remain faithful to the lost friendship but eventually works through her grief and reconnects with others.

Well, that really does not describe the richness of the book… The author, in a very poetic way, explores the long journey through loss and grief, their impact on the self, and on relationships with others. It also alludes on the role of community in supporting those who are grieving and their own longing for normalcy.

For the MOOC, I had to write a “creative essay”, which means we have lots of leeway to write something related to the reading, without being constrained by the customary essay form. So at the risk of being accused of plagiarizing my own blog, I am posting what I wrote before the closing of the peer review period.

Auntie’s lost chance at motherhood

Siss is here for a visit and I tell her: “If Unn doesn’t come back, I shall sell this house and go away. I don’t think I can stay here – even though I had Unn for only six months.”

Look at that child. So lost, so forlorn. I cannot talk about my growing conviction that we will never find Unn… that she was just a shooting star, among us for an instant. I don’t want her to lose hope, children should always have hope. What is childhood without hope, without a broad sunny horizon, without something new and fresh to discover every day. Losing a friend, another little girl, could spoil the world forever for her… I have to stay calm, keep a gentle face, hide the pain.

And how does Siss see me? Auntie was just as placid and friendly as she had been the whole time.

Me, an old maid, childless… I was given a chance, but such a small chance to experience motherhood, even though I will never be a mother, to cultivate this bond with a child. But did Unn even give me a chance? What an odd little girl she was, always brooding, very silent, but seemingly pleased with herself, as if holding a secret against the world. How did she connect with Siss?

If I leave… when I leave… where will I go? Close by, but far enough to avoid the memories? Or shall I go far, far away? Where there will be no chance to run into anyone from here, to bring up memories, to ask how am I getting along, since Unn…

This place, this house, in other times a quiet haven, fills with the absence of a little girl, who could have been mine, but never was. And never will be.

* * * * *

As I read the book, I wondered about what Auntie really felt about the disappearance of Unn. I was trying to image the chain of thoughts that would fill her head as she looked calmly at Siss, probably looking quite inexpressive to the little girl. I was wondering what her perception of this relationship and its subsequent loss was.

 

 

References:

Quotes from pages 102 and 103 are indicated in bold italics.

Vesaas, Tarjei. The Ice Palace. Peter Owen Classics, London, 1991.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarjei_Vesaas

http://www.peterowen.com/pages/Authors/Tarjei%20Vesaas.htm

Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters

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I just started Headhunters (in French translation) and I just can’t put it down… At the same time, I get really nervous every time the main character, Roger Brown, an overly confident headhunter from Oslo who leads a double-life as an art thief, goes on the hunt for a coveted piece of artwork to finance is over-the-top life style. He seems to think he can’t be caught, but I think he may have found his match with his latest “victim”… will the hunter become the hunted? This book does not make headhunters sound like nice people either.

Update on November 1st:

There are some pretty funky twists in this book. Very good suspense. You may assume that one person was the bad guy (or gall) and be mistaken until the end. And some of your assumptions about what was real and what was a lie from one of the characters might also be quite wrong… Just don’t read this book while eating. There are some pretty graphic scenes that would interfere with the enjoyment of your meal.

Reference:

Nesbø, Jo. Chasseurs de têtes. Gallimard Folio Policier, 2009. (publié en suédois en 2008)

Murder and Crime in Norway

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I finished reading Gunnar Staalesen’s Los círculos de la muerte (or the Circles of Death). I enjoyed uncovering the plot, like I do for most police/mystery novels. This was set in Norway, mostly in Bergen and the area north of it. The main character, Varg Veum, is a social worker turned detective, who is trying to understand how some events are linked and how a young man whom he first encounters as a young boy became apparently entangled in a series of tragic events, including four murders. Two innocent people go to jail and many people get away with some pretty big lies about their pasts (or some major omissions).

I am not sure I like the Spanish translation. I am not sure it rendered the language used in the Norwegian original. There are many references to people speaking in local dialects, which is from what I have read quite usual in Norway, but of course this is hard to show faithfully in a translation.

So the next Spanish book with be in the original language (a novel by Gioconda Belli, a writer from Nicaragua).