When non-English writers get their work published in translation you often find that when they enjoy success in translation, their publishers begin to translate and publish books from their back-catalogue. Per Petterson is in this situation; his books Out Stealing Horses, To Siberia and I Curse The River of Time have been very well received and now his publishers have decided to publish It’s Fine By Me which was written in 1992 but was first published in English in this edition of 2012.
Its Fine By Me is semi-autobiographical and could be called a “coming of age” novel in that it follows the life of Audan between the ages of 12 and 18. Audan lives with his mother and sister in a working-class suburb of Oslo. He had a brother who was killed in a road accident and Audan now struggles with his role as “number one son”, while his shadowy and violent father comes and goes, wreaking havoc whenever he turns up on the scene. Interestingly Audan’s best friend is Arvid who is the main character in the earlier book, I Curse the River of Time.
I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to. I assumed that the publishers were now publishing 20 year-old work from an immature Petterson, but was surprised to find that I probably liked this one more than any of the author’s later works. I immediately liked Audan’s “voice” (the book is written in the first person) and found myself sympathising with his troubles. He exhibits all the traits of adolescence – from wearing sun-glasses at all times to finding ways of separating himself from his mother. But his struggles are real and he deals with them courageously if not always successfully.
Norwegian writer Per Petterson writes in a sparse, restrained style which somehow mirrors the bleak Scandinavian towns and landscapes he describes in his novels. In I Curse the River of Time, we meet Arvid Janse, a character who features in other Petterson novels, a tired man who has failed to fulfil his potential and has a propensity to cheap whisky and memories of better times.
Arvid is going through a divorce, and his mother is dying of stomach cancer. We join the story with his mother leaving Oslo on a ferry to sail small town in Jutland where she grew up, and where the family have a beach house near a remote village.
Petterson plays tricks with his readers straight-away as we read Arvid’s detailed description of his mother’s voyage complete with her thoughts and actions, down to the way she twisted the top off a bottle of whisky and filled her glass half-full – actions which her son, the first person narrator could not possibly have seen. However, it all creates atmosphere: the cold sea and the bleak landscape of North Jutland with it marram grass, pine trees and sea-mist.
Its such a relief to be finally coming out of winter. I enjoy Britain’s changing seasons, winter included, but there’s something about February which generates a longing for warmer days and a bit of sunshine. Now at last we seem to have turned the corner – and it happened around the Vernal Equinox as well which seems very fitting. I took this photo in a village near here, and it shows one of the few round-towered churches built in England.
Piddinghoe, East Sussex
I don’t read a lot of crime novels, but when I do, I focus on books by Ruth Rendell, Frances Fyfield, Elizabeth George and P D James (why are so many top-rate crime writers female?). Over the last month however, I’ve been reading Scandinavian crime and discovering a whole new world of high-quality thrillers which kept me turning the pages of my Kindle.
While Norwegian music is not totally unfamiliar to me (a-ha from the 80s and more recently, Secret Garden), I confess to not having read many Norwegian authors other than Henrick Ibsen, so its good to find a contemporary and reasonably-acclaimed Norwegian writer.
To Siberia was written in 1996 and won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize. It was translated into English by Anne Born and has recently been republished by Vintage Books, making a nice set of three together with In The Wake, and Peterson’s most recent book, Out Stealing Horses (which has an incredibly gloomy synopsis provided by the publishers on their website).
To Siberia certainly lives up to its reputation of being, er, er . . . Scandinavian. Set in the cold land of Danish Jutland, where the sea freezes over and even the next town of Skagen is “nothing but sand”.
The story is narrated by an un-named young girl. The nearest we get to a name is when her brother addresses her as Sistermine. I think there should be a rule that writers should name their characters, for how can we poor reviewers refer to them other than by annoying descriptive titles such as the one I use, “the narrator”. The family are incredibly poor. The father works as a carpenter but is an inept businessman who charges minimal amounts for his work, while the mother is a deeply religious writer of hymns but refuses to publish them or even to sing them in public.
I’ve been enrolled in the Amazon Vine programme which enables me to select books and other items which have been donated by publishers as review copies.
The first book arrived this week and made me realise that perhaps part of the purpose of Vine from the publishers perspective is to try to beef up the sales of something obscure, peculiar, or down-right unmarketable. Forgive me Portobello Books if I’ve misinterpreted your motives!
I wouldn’t normally waste time reviewing a book like this but I am posting it here just in case some innocent Googler is tempted to waste a day or two flicking through this book before discarding it (ouch!).
I didn’t know what to make of this Norwegian book, A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven. Its describe on the inside cover as a novel, but huge chunks of it are a theological history of angels, quoting extensively (and I really mean extensively) from the Bible and the early Father’s of the Church, Jerome, Gregory, Aquinas etc. Much of the first part of the book is taken up with discussing whether angels existed before the creation of the earth or whether they were part of the creation, which all seemed a bit arcane to me – particularly as this reader at least, don’t really believe in angels anyway.
The fiction comes in at the start when Antonous Bellori, an 11 year old boy has a frightening encounter with two angels and then spends the rest of his life studying written accounts of angels in order to write the definitive angelic history, “On The Nature of Angels”.