Credit: Jonas Gunnarsson/Westend61 GmbH
If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten track to tempt you during the summer season, how about a Norwegian novel? Norvik Press has published translations of three of Norway’s most popular contemporary authors, which in their very different ways will transport you to an unfamiliar world.
VIGDIS HJORTH: A HOUSE IN NORWAY (2014), translated by Charlotte Barslund.
Alma is a textile artist who receives an exciting commission, to design a tapestry for an exhibition to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Norway. The research is interesting and the money welcome – like many artists, she has a struggle to make ends meet – but she soon finds that it is not straightforward. An additional complication is that she is living in a large and impractical old house, and to help with the upkeep she rents out a part of it. Her new tenants are a young Polish couple, who at first seem quiet and undemanding; but soon the man disappears in suspicious circumstances, the woman has a baby and there are ongoing problems – their lifestyles are completely different, the woman keeps complaining, the rent is not paid … . Alma becomes increasingly unsettled, torn between her image of herself as an altruistic and open-minded modern feminist and her need for personal and private space in order to create. The conflict builds to a dramatic confrontation, but can there be a satisfactory resolution?
Vigdis Hjorth is an outspoken and controversial author who explores the boundaries between public persona and private trauma. Charlotte Barslund is a prize-winning translator, who was recently awarded the Believer Book Award for her translation of one of Vigdis Hjorth’s novels.
ERIK FOSNES HANSEN: LOBSTER LIFE (2016), translated by Janet Garton.
Young Sedd, named after a witch by his long-vanished mother, is being brought up by his grandparents, the proprietors of one of Norway’s most resplendent and traditional mountain hotels. In the intervals between his hotel duties, he plays the role of private detective, attempting to discover the secrets of his own past. Yet for all his precocious abilities, he misses the vital clues as to what is happening around him: the family hotel, his inheritance, is on the brink of bankruptcy as its regular guests desert the glories of the Norwegian landscape for the hot beaches of Spain. The novel is full of humour, as Sedd becomes in turn a child of nature escorting German fishermen around the fish-filled mountain lakes, a world-weary sophisticate trying to impress an annoying teenager, or an impeccable waiter serving a party of funeral directors who let their hair down with astonishing abandon. Beneath the surface, however, the personal and financial tensions are slowly increasing, to a point where the secrets of the past and the conflicts of the present trigger an irreversible act of destruction.
Erik Fosnes Hansen’s novels are extremely diverse in form and content, ranging from the wildest of fantasies to the most carefully-researched realism. His early prize-winning novel Psalm at Journey’s End (1996) follows the lives of a group of musicians whose final engagement is on board the Titanic as it sails to its doom.
JAN KJÆRSTAD: BERGE (2017), translated by Janet Garton.
On a lovely summer’s day in 2008, the whole of Norway is shocked by the news of a brutal killing: in their peaceful country cabin, the popular Labour politician Arve Storefjeld and several members of his family have had their throats cut as they slept. The mysterious killer has left no trace. As the investigation unfolds, we follow the story through the eyes of three different actors in the drama: Ine Wang, an investigative journalist who stumbles on a vital clue, Peter Malm, the distinguished judge who presides over the trial, and Nicolai Berge, the writer who soon becomes the main suspect. All have their own demons to do battle with; all are in different ways critical of a society which has assumed that such things only happen elsewhere. When they meet at the trial, it is not only the accused who must face a reckoning.
Jan Kjærstad is best known abroad for his trilogy about another fictional representative of modern Norway, Jonas Wergeland, in The Seducer (1993), The Conqueror (1996) and The Discoverer (1999). The novel Berge, says the author, would not have been written without the events of 22 July 2011, when 77 youngsters attending a Labour party summer camp on the island of Utøya were shot dead by one rogue gunman. On that day the myth of Norwegian exceptionalism expired.