Scandinavian Literature

Story of a Marriage by Geir Gulliksen

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Story of a Marriage

An unflinching study of lost love and intimacy

The 2020 Dublin Literary Award would have announced its shortlist on 2 April, but has since been postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Among the many big names on the extensive long-list was Story of a Marriage by Geir Gulliksen, which caused a stir in Norway upon publication in 2015. Many viewed it as the latest example of so-called virkelighetslitteratur – reality literature – a strand of life writing that seemed to expose the private lives of real people under the guise of fiction.

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Summer Light and Then Comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson

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Summer Light and Then Comes the Night

Humanity distilled

Truly original novels are few and far between. All the more reason to hail the wonderfully quirky Summer Light and Then Comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson. It’s the portrait of a remote Icelandic town set in the 1990s and if that fails to excite you, I promise that this unexpected, humorous, warm story is worth reading.  Stefansson describes dreams and aspirations, crushed or fulfilled; love and desire, unrequited or reciprocated. Life, basically. His tone in playful, conversational and above all, funny. A breath of literary fresh air.

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Love by Hanne Ørstavik

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Love

Unrequited love in a cold climate

It is always strange when a foreign book published more than 20 years ago is suddenly picked up by an English-language publisher and goes on to receive rave reviews. This recently happened with the book Love by Hanne Ørstavik, an author who, with numerous novels, essays and short stories under her belt, has long been one of Norway’s most respected writers. Her 1997 breakthrough novel Kjærlighet was translated as Love by Martin Aitken last year and published in America, where it was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Now, Ørstavik’s strongest work has finally been published in the UK by And Other Stories.

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Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth

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Will and Testament

‘Endurance is the first duty of all living beings.’

After Knausgaard’s My Struggle series of books, Norwegian readers thought we were used to the dramatic repercussions brought on by the thinly veiled autobiographical novel. Then, in 2016, Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth’s  detonated like a bomb. Critics claimed to find many similarities between real people and the characters portrayed in the novel, too many for there to be a coincidence. It was clear: Vigdis Hjorth was writing about her own life and her own family. This led to much debate and even sparked a new genre – the ‘revenge-novel’ – when Hjorth’s sister wrote a novel of her own about what it was like to be made into a character in her sister’s book.

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The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

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The Birds

A compassionate portrait of a struggling everyman

None other than Karl Ove Knausgaard, Norway’s greatest literary export since Ibsen, has provided the endorsement quote on the reissued English edition of The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas, stating that it is ‘the best Norwegian novel ever.’ Vesaas (1897-1970) is still considered one of the country’s most important writers, and is now deservedly being published in English as part of Penguin Modern Classics. (PS never mind the hipster on the cover. I’m certain this is not how Vesaas envisioned Mattis). Read full Review

A Stranger at My Table by Ivo de Figueiredo

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A Stranger at My Table

A thorough exploration of a complex family history

It feels timely for Norwegian historian and biographer Ivo de Figueiredo’s postcolonial family chronicle to be published in English on the eve of Brexit. A Stranger at My Table by Ivo de Figueiredo is the author’s autobiographical account of a family history that spans two centuries and four continents, and the result is an ambitious amalgam; an exploration of a family ‘caught in the half-life of empires’, as well as a personal memoir detailing de Figueiredo’s turbulent relationship with his father Xavier.

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So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgaard

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So Much Longing In So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch

A brilliant introduction to the non-canonical Munch

With a new exhibition on at the British Museum entitled ‘Edvard Munch: Love and Angst’, the English publication of  So Much Longing In So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgaard is timely. The book was written when Knausgaard was co-curating the exhibition ‘Mot Skogen’ (‘To the forest’) at the Munch Museum in Oslo in 2017, a task he took on despite acknowledging that ‘my only qualification was that I liked looking at paintings and often browsed through art books.’

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Unquiet by Linn Ullmann

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Unquiet

A luminous example of fictionalised autobiography

In 2014, when Unquiet by Linn Ullmann was still in the process of being written, the Norwegian writer and journalist was asked by Vogue what she was currently working on. ‘I am writing a memoir’, she replied, ‘or at least I thought it was a memoir. But since my memory is both very vivid and not entirely reliable, it could just as well be a novel.’ At the time, Ullmann was promoting her book Det dyrebare (The Cold Song) in America. The ‘memoir’ she described became the 2015 sensation De urolige, which was recently published in English as Unquiet in a translation by Thilo Reinhard.

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Mrs Pepperpot by Alf Proysen

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Mrs Pepperpot Stories

The diminutive Scandinavian star still shines

Almost 50 years after the death of her creator, Mrs Pepperpot continues to beam out from the bookshelves of every decent bookshop. Old ladies don’t usually wake up in the morning to find themselves shrunk to the size of a pepper pot but that’s exactly what happens to our eponymous heroine, shrinking at the most inconvenient moments, and becoming embroiled in various hijinks and escapades along the way. This edition of her classic adventures is the ideal bedtime companion for the 5-8 year olds in your life.

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Wilful Disregard

Love, in theory

Ester Nilsson, respected poet and writer, has spent too much time being an intellectual and too little being a human. Everything changes when she falls head-over-heals in love with successful artist Hugo Rask. But how will Ester reconcile her critical/analytical brain with her biological urges? And what are Hugo’s intentions? Is he looking for love or just someone to stroke his ego? I was engrossed by Andersson’s intelligent and wickedly funny portrayal of the nature of relationships. A book for anyone who has loved without being loved back.

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