Writer: Hanne Ørstavik
Publishing House: Archipelago Books
Date of Publication: February 13th 2018 (first published 1997)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’A path into the forest, from a long-forgotten place.
Find the path and follow, its ribbon yours to trace.
Past trees and hillocks wander, to a splendid castle old,
In whose halls three ladies fine you shall at last behold.
The prince they there await, if ever he should come.
A song they sing to pass the time, a lonely, plaintive hum.’’
Once in a while, there comes a book that takes you by surprise. An unassuming, low-key, seemingly ordinary novel which turns into an experience that makes you fully understand why you love reading so much. That gives a whole new meaning to Literary Fiction. That has you thinking for days after the last page is turnt. The feelings that ‘’Love’’ caused in me surprised me. What didn’t surprise me was the fact that this novel comes from one of the most haunting places God has created. Norway, the land of the Midnight Sun. But in our story, the sun is nowhere to be found…
Vibeke and Jon have recently moved to a new town, in Norway. The story unfolds over a single wintry night when Vibeke and Jon follow their own separate ways, each for their own reasons. Through this peculiar evening, Vibeke will have to face the results of her questionable behaviour and Jon will come across his own fears and isolation.
The two characters consist the driving force of the story. Vibeke is a bookworm, a woman who wants to succeed in her career, to look beautiful, to fall in love and have some time to herself. She is a modern mother, but more often than not, she comes across as vain, almost narcissistic, cold and clueless and not quite the kind of mother that a nine year old child needs. Jon is a boy with a tender heart and an almost terrifying imagination, not unlike his mother. The two share the most unbreakable bond God has created, the one between a mother and her child. However, the relationship depicted in this novel is troubled and troubling. Vibeke and Jon trust strangers too easily and their minds create images, expectations and assumptions that have little or no connection to reality. The two other characters are Tom, a young man working in a funfair, and an unnamed driver whom Jon meets on his way home.
Ørstavik’s writing is impeccable, perfect, as haunting as the beauty of her homeland. There are beautiful scenes from the daily life of the two characters. You can feel the warmth of their home, smell the cooked food, see the cozy corners. You can see the dimly lit streets of the neighbourhood, hear the crunching snow, smell the freezing wind and wander in the centre of the town, visit the library and the funfair. The writer’s ability to paint pictures with words and communicate so many themes through minimal dialogue is outstanding. The eerie feeling, the sense of impending doom that permeates the novel doesn’t allow you to look away and I am happy to see that the translator did a marvelous job in transfering images and feelings to perfection.The end is striking. As I’m writing, I try to process it and I can’t. It will leave you speechless, the way a well-written novella has to do.
This is an appropriate read for a cold winter’s night, ideally in Norway. Or Denmark, or Sweden and Finland. But if this isn’t possible, any place becomes ideal when there is a beautiful book to keep us company. And this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read this year. Yes, it is dark, sad, it cuts like a knife and freezes the blood, and yet, in all this darkness, there is a kind of pure beauty. I’m not a mother, but I work with children and books like this one makes you want to hold them close and shut out the darkness of the world.
Many thanks to Archipelago Books and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.