‘Encircling’ by Carl Frode Tiller (2007) – 326 pages Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland
Carl Frode Tiller has been called the anti-Knausgaard, so of course I had to read ‘Encircling’. I found ‘My Struggle – Book 1’ by Karl Ove Knausgaard to be “self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-indulgent” and that was before the new US President gave new meaning to these words, so I was all primed to read a novel that was the opposite.
The central character in ‘Encircling’, David Hugsar, never appears directly on stage. David in his thirties has lost his memory, and can’t remember who he is. He puts an ad in the newspaper asking old friends and relatives to help him remember. Three people answer his ad and write him long letters. First there is Jon who was David’s best friend in high school, a perhaps over-sensitive anti-social musician. Second we get Arvid who is David’s church vicar stepfather. Third we have David’s girlfriend from high school, Silje, who is now many years later unhappily married.
As opposed to ‘My Struggle’ where the entire story is seen and told through the first-person narrator’s eyes, here we get a more fractured various picture of this guy David told through several people who knew him well. In the following two novels of the ‘Encircling’ trilogy we get six more people who come forward to write him long letters. Isn’t this multiple-viewpoints approach a more realistic and accurate and deeper appraisal of an individual?
“Having someone to live for makes us human.”
The entire story in ‘Encircling’ takes place in the coastal Norwegian town of Namsos which gives it a small town ambiance. I found the story and situation in the novel quite captivating and involving, even though I did not know where the story was heading. I never did quite figure out exactly where the story was going, but it is part of a trilogy so that question may be answered later. Perhaps what threw me off the trail was that in both the Arvid section and the Silje section large portions of the story are not devoted to David but instead to Arvid and Silje’s current circumstances many years later. Arvid is in a hospice fighting cancer, and Silje is in a miserable marriage.
What stands out about ‘Encircling’ is the depth and intensity of its portrayals. I got the same sense reading ‘Encircling’ that I get when I watch an Ingmar Bergman movie, that I was moving in unknown unchartable human territory, where not every trait or action is explainable but is still true on a visceral level. Human life is here, and it is still the great unknown.