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review 2014-06-14 20:48
#CBR6 Book 53: Teori og prakis (Theory and practice) by Nikolaj Frobenius
Teori og praksis - Nikolaj Frobenius

Nikolaj moves to a newly constructed house in a suburb in one of the counties surrounding Oslo in the early 1970s. His father is one of the architects who planned the area, and is full of dreams about the social opportunities the new affordable housing will mean for families in the area. As it turns out, most of the families who move in stick to a rigid routine of conformity and normality - their children wear the same thing, cut their hair the same way, they mow their lawns on the same day and wash their cars once a week. As the only boy in the neighbourhood with shoulder-length hair, a father who's a hippie and a mother who's Danish, Nikolaj finds it difficult to fit in. All his attempts at youthful rebellion are thwarted because his parents are fully supportive of youthful protest, defiance and voicing one's own opinion. They cheer him on rather than disapprove.

When Nikolaj's mother is killed by a hit and run driver, his life irrevocably changes. Magnus, his formerly jovial and cheerful father withdraws completely into grief and depression, forcing Nikolaj to take on the role as caretaker. His aunt and uncle take his younger brother away, leaving Nikolaj alone with the grieving widower. He barely ever goes to school and desperately seeks a way out. He finds some outlet of his own grief and frustration in punk, forming a punk band with some of his friends and starts experimenting with drugs. Initially, Magnus seems baffled by his son's love of the Sex Pistols and other punk idols, but eventually ends up almost co-opting this attempt at teenage rebellion too, even stepping in to help out on drums at one of the band's concerts. Things are bound to come to a head, and they do.

The blurb for this novel describes it as a "lying autobiography". The protagonist shares the author's name, and grew up in the same place as him in the 70s, but his father was not an architect and most of the events, while somewhat loosely based on the author's adolescence are heavily fictionalised. The book was also turned into a successful movie here in Norway in 2011 (with a cameo appearance by Johnny Rotten), the screenplay adapted by the author himself. I wrote about the adaptation from novel to movie in exam term paper, comparing and contrasting the two.

Out of the two, I absolutely preferred the movie, possibly because the film compresses most of the action to a year of Nikolaj's life, and skips most of his early childhood, where not that much actually happens, except small things that add up to set the scene for his later rift with his father. The book is also a lot more focused on how the "theory" of the social-democratic ideals of the 1970s failed spectacularly in the area where Frobenius grew up, the "practice" being that the almost forced expectation of conformity and sameness, without any proper outlets for leisure activities, except the local mall, resulting in a huge amount of disenfranchised youths turning to drugs and alcohol when trying to rebel against their middle class parents. The movie is more a portrayal of the father-son relationship with its ups and downs before and after the mother's death.

As of yet, I haven't received the resulting grade for my exam paper, so I don't know yet whether I did a good or a disappointing job on my analysis. I doubt I would have chosen to read the book if it wasn't part of my coursework, even though it's set about 20 minutes away from where I grew up in the mid-80s to 90s. Where I grew up, Rykkin (the area Frobenius grew up) had a bad reputation, and it was well known that you didn't want to go to that mall after dark, as that was where all the druggies were. Can't say that the book dispelled my youthful preconceptions.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2014/06/cbr6-book-53-teori-og-praksis-theory.html
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review 2014-02-28 12:28
#CBR6 Book 18: Haiene (The Sharks) by Jens Bjørneboe
Haiene: historien om et mannskap og et forlis - Jens Bjørneboe

The Norwegian Peder Jensen is the second mate on a sailing ship, the Nepture, on route from Manilla to Marseille, in 1899. In the prologue it is revealed that six months after this ship set sail, it is still missing without a trace. In the novel we discover what happened to the ship and the crew. As second mate, and third in command on the ship, Jensen also has to be the crew medic, and spends a lot of his time patching up the various crew members that keep fighting viciously. 

 

There is a lot of tension aboard the ship, partially because the crew members are from all over the world, some with very different religious and ideological views. The situation is not improved by the fact that corners have been cut when the crew provisions were purchased, so the crew basically eat slops while the officers dine in luxury. Thirdly, the captain is unpopular, and one of the crew members seem to have sworn revenge on him because he killed said crew member's brother in a mutiny some years back. 

 

Jensen rarely agrees with the decisions his fellow officers make, and try to help the crew as much as he is able. After saving one of the young boys, having been hoisted up the mast by the third mate, the nervous young former street urchin latches on to him with all he's got, deciding that Jensen is now his father, whether the man wants the responsibility or not. As the journey progresses, both literal and figurative storms keep threatening the Neptune and its crew. As a massive typhoon approaches, the readers also discover why the ship was reported missing without a trace.

 

Yet another of the novels I had to read for my course, this was absolutely the best of the lot I had to read in February. Written in the 1970s by Jens Bjørneboe, it's basically a big ol' metaphor for how the author sees the world in general, and how he'd like the ideal society to be. The ship, with all the disparate crew members from all races and creeds, complete with a rigid class division and a lot of tensions is how he pictures the world. The sharks swimming along side the ship are metaphors for pure greed and thoughtless evil, which is ever present. The mutiny on board as a huge tropical storm is threatening is the revolution that the author clearly feels needs to happen, and the aftermath of the mutiny and the storm is clearly how the author wishes society could become. 

 

I've never been particularly drawn to the ocean, although I find it beautiful and awe inspiring. I find it interesting that there is a whole genre of literature, devoted to sea travel and seafaring life, because even after reading several, I just don't see the fascination. I also notice that all the authors of these kinds of books seem to all be men. I just don't think women writers are all that bothered about exploring man's struggle with internal and external nature while travelling the seven seas. I know I as a female reader am fairly unmoved by it. This book was perfectly ok, but nothing more. As the prologue told me disastrous things were going to happen, I kept waiting for them to do so. Jensen's philosophical ramblings as he pottered about the ship doing everyday second mate things weren't exactly thrilling. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/cbr6-book-18-haiene-sharks-by-jens.html
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review 2014-02-28 12:03
#CBR6 Book 17: Nokon kjem til å komme (Someone is going to come) by Jon Fosse
Nokon kjem til å komme - Jon Fosse

A couple, he somewhere in middle age, around his fifties (according to the stage directions), she in her thirties arrive at a house by the ocean, in a remote and lonely location. Here they are finally going to be alone, alone together, away from everyone and everything. But she is worried. "Someone is going to come" she laments. Their perfect solitude will be shattered by outsiders, she's convinced of this. He tries to reassure her that no one will come, they will just be alone, together.

 

Of course, someone does come. Their closest neighbour, the young man in his twenties who sold them the house, is clearly desperate for company, what with living in such a lonely and remote location. The man hides as he approaches, and watches the neighbour's somewhat needy conversation with the woman. He is racked with jealousy. Perhaps she wasn't lamenting earlier? Perhaps she wanted someone to come? Maybe she'd rather talk to the young man than be alone with him in their new home?

 

As I mentioned in last year's review of The Son, a different Jon Fosse play that I had to read for my course back then, I'm not a fan of Modernist literature. As Fosse is one of the chief Neo-Modernist playwrights writing today, it was never going to be a good fit between us. I like the things I read to have purpose of some kind. I like characters to be complex and develop and my favourite stories are strongly character driven narratives, preferably with a bit of romance, action and adventure thrown in. This play is not very long, and there is little character or plot development to speak of. It's easy to read, because the same damn three lines keep being repeated ad nauseum throughout. "We will be alone", "Alone together, in our love", "Someone is going to come". 

 

There are only the three characters in the entire play, and even the sadsack neighbour only appears in two scenes. It becomes painfully obvious as soon as he shows up that whatever relationship the couple are planning on having alone in by the sea is doomed to failure, if the man is going to fall to pieces with jealousy as soon as the woman so much as looks at another man. Perhaps buying a house in the middle of nowhere wasn't such a good idea? 

 

Among the students of my course, there were also a lot of different interpretations of the tone of the play, and how the neighbour was perceived (which is one of the advantages of such a minimalist play with hardly any stage directions). Myself and several others thought he was a threatening presence, and that he acts aggressively pushy towards the poor woman, who also has to contend with an insanely jealous partner, who falls into a massive sulk and forces her to do any further communication with the neighbour, even when she appears very unwilling to do so. Quite a few felt that she'd do well to get the heck away from said lonely location as soon as possible, lest she be either murdered by her jealous partner, or assaulted by the desperate and lonely neighbour. Of course, if such a thing were to happen, there would actually mean something happened, which it doesn't. There's conversations outside the house, and inside the house, and nothing really seems to happen or come to a head or be resolved in any way. 

 

Having now read two Fosse plays, I desperately hope I won't have to read anymore. I find him tedious in the extreme, a waste of time (although because his plays are so short, at least it's a blessedly short amount of my time being wasted) and I certainly don't see why anyone would want to pay money to see this frustratingly sparse play be acted out on a stage. I clearly have much better things to do than to read Neo-Modernist drama. This one is definitely going to be on my worst of the year list. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/cbr6-book-17-nokon-kjem-til-komme.html
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review 2014-02-16 01:58
#CBR6 Book 16: Innsirkling (Encirclement) by Carl Frode Tiller
Innsirkling - Carl Frode Tiller

David has lost his memory. A news paper notice appears, asking people whether they know him and encouraging friends and acquaintances to write to him, to help him restore his memories. In this book, we get to read the letters of three of the people who write to him, as well as read about their current lives. As we read their stories and letters to David, more of his identity is revealed, but much more so, the identity of the letter writers.

 

The first third of the book introduces us to Jon, an aspiring musician with an ailing mother and a fraught rivalry with his only brother. He doesn't have the heart to tell his mother, who never had faith that he would make it as a professional bassist, that he quit his band in the middle of their tour. He feels like a constant failure, not helped by the fact that he recently broke up with his long term girlfriend, who his mother keeps hoping he'll get back together with. Then he discovers that his brother and sister-in-law are about to adopt a child, fulfilling his mother's dreams of becoming a grandmother, and he seems to lose it completely.

 

The second third features Arvid, David's stepfather, who sees the newspaper notice while in hospital, trying to come to terms with the fact that he's going to die of cancer. The opportunity to reconnect with his stepson through the letters gives the former priest renewed faith in the God he felt abandoned by, and brings him new hope. 

 

The last third is about Silje, a middle aged woman going having marital troubles, considering divorce and trying to come to terms with the death of her overbearing mother. She keeps picking fights with her husband, and can't seem to help making her situation worse than it already is. 

 

The letters focus on the friendship between Jon, David and Silje, and give three very different accounts of the relationship dynamic of the three. In Jon's letters, Silje is mostly on the periphery, while he and David share a secret and experimental homosexual relationship, while discovering existential philosophy, art, literature and being as pretentious and different from the other teenagers in their little town as possible. In Arvid's letters, we see his deep love for David's mother and his wish to be a good father figure for the boy. He observes that there was an unhealthy power dynamic in the group, with David and Silje frequently goading the insecure and impressionable Jon into doing things he would otherwise never have done. Silje's letters paint her as David's girlfriend, with Jon the slightly clueless and melodramatic third wheel. Who is really showing us, and David, the truth about the past?

 

This book was awarded the Brage Prize in 2007, an award that since 1992 has aimed to recognise significant works of contemporary Norwegian literature. It has an interesting premise, with themes of identity being explored though its somewhat unusual structure. Because the reader gets to see the three letter writers in the present, as well as reading their accounts of the past, and all three people give very different versions of David's teenage years, it raises questions about which of the narrators are actually reliable. 

 

While the unusual structure and idea makes the book interesting, I didn't really like the book much, because I couldn't really stand Jon and Silje. Their present lives were uninteresting to me, and they were so clearly mainly the cause of their own misfortunes. I also found their stories unconvincing. The only character I found sympathetic was Arvid, the stepfather, and while I'm sure his version of his personal life with David's mother might be coloured more favourably towards him as an understanding husband and sensitive and caring stepfather, I don't see what he would gain from portraying the relationship between the three friends in anything but a true light. 

 

I was also frustrated by the fact that all these three people were supposed to be writing to help this David remember who he was, and managed to make the letters and their accounts all about themselves. Which is probably the author's way of showing that even when supposed  to try to help another, human nature is inevitably selfish and narcissistic. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/02/cbr6-book-16-innsirkling-encirclement.html
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