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.
Few things could hold me off from starting Margaret Atwood’s latest book, but The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig actually has. Zweig, an Austrian Jew whose wonderful novellas (The Royal Game, Amok, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman) many of you will know, was the world’s most popular author in the 1920s and 30s, until Hitler banned his books. The World of Yesterday is his autobiography, finished two days before his and his second wife’s joint suicide. It’s a lament for a lost world, a love letter to creativity and artists and an eloquent analysis of events that led up to both the first and the second world wars. The parallels with aspects of our own turbulent times are hard to ignore. Highly recommended.
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
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.
We’ve all seen her by now. The little girl with the long plaits and a yellow rain coat desperately trying to save the world. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg is a collection of her speeches, from The World Economic Forum to The Houses of Parliament, from the European Parliament to the UN Climate Change Conference. It’s the clarity of her message and the simplicity of her form that makes Greta and her message so powerful. Read this little book of her speeches and be inspired to act.
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.’
Our nameless narrator’s husband has just announced he is leaving her. Adrift with a three-year old daughter she attempts to rebuild a life, but 1970s Japan is an unforgiving place for divorced women and shame, sadness and responsibility weigh heavily on her. Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima is a strange little book; its quietly powerful, sparse language perfectly captures despair and isolation in the wake of separation.
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.
What really happened in the 1938 meeting when Hitler told the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg to roll over or be rolled over? Or during the dinner at 10 Downing Street where Foreign Minister Ribbentropp waxed lyrical about macaroons while watching Chamberlain receive the news that Germany had invaded Austria? In The Order of the Day by Eric Vulliard, the author has pieced together the facts, filled in the gaps and created a fascinating and frightening account of a sleepwalk into disaster.
Disconcerting, mysterious and riveting, Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami is the story of a nine month period in the life of a portrait painter. Newly separated from his wife, he holes up in a mountaintop retreat where his discovery of a hidden painting sets in train a circular series of extraordinary events that reveal aspects of himself – and the world of instincts and ideas – that both change him forever and give him back his future.