Monday, September 6, 2010
Per Petterson and the gang.
I have always had something of a problem when it comes to keeping up with modern literature. There are just so many classics left to read, so I have never really understood when I am supposed to find time for modern prose. Especially when I started reading in multiple languages, and often quite slowly, this became an even bigger problem. Therefore I am quite proud of how much modern Norwegian literature I have been reading lately. Yesterday I started reading (and read half of) Jeg forbanner tidens elv (I curse the river of time, supposedly a line from a poem by Mao, but I don't know what the "official" translation of the phrase is) by Per Petterson. Funnily enough, this book makes me think of a couple of other brilliant Scandinavian books, and I think it embodies exactly what I like about Scandinavian literature. This particular author uses a rather simple language and some of the forms feel rather like spoken language to me, something I'm not sure I appreciated at first, but then this is Norwegian and Norwegian abides by like 10 different sets of rules. What makes it rather typically Scandinavian, at least for me, is the general sadness that prevails throughout the entire book. There's a sort of weight placed on top of every word, adding a depressing tone to even the happy recollections, but sad books don't bring me down, quite the opposite.
The topic of this book is the life of the narrator, who is now an elderly man. Throughout the book you get to follow different episodes from his life, cut up into different chapters and intertwined with each other, ranging from when he was a child to his divorce and the cancer his mother suffered from as an old woman. Absolutely everything in this book feels typical for me. Since I am very familiar with Oslo now, I recognize all the places he speaks about and I have even lived and worked in them, something that doubtlessly brings me closer to the story, but the people he describes also feel extremely real. His mother, the weird distance she keeps between herself and her son, her constant shortness, her apparent indifference and self-sacrifice do not appear strange at all, nor the weakness (male) of the main character and his father. I get the impression it could have been anyone. His wife, who is divorcing him and whom he cannot look at anymore, and who tells him to stop being so ridiculous, also feels... right.
Other books or authors this one reminds me of are Elisabeth Rynell (Till Mervas especially), Mare Kandre (Aliide, Aliide) and Herbjørg Wassmo (Tora Trilogy). These are the kind of books I enjoy studying foreign languages for. You can certainly read quite a lot of books translated, but there is always a big part of literature that never gets translated, and when it comes to Swedish literature, detective stories seems to be what gets translated and sold abroad. The good literature stays in Sweden.
Jeg forbanner tidens elv has, by the way, won the literary award of the Nordic Council and has been called the best Norwegian book of 2008. In 2003 he wrote another book that became absolutely huge, not only in Norway but abroad as well. So I think that's what I'm going to read once I get back from Russia.