‘Love’ by Hanne Ørstavik – A Cold Winter Night in a Northern Norwegian Town


‘Love’ by Hanne Ørstavik (1997) – 125 pages               Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken

This is a story about a single night in the lives of single mother Vibeke and her eight year-old son Jon. They have recently moved to this small remote town in the north of Norway. Jon wants to give his mother plenty of space so she can get ready for his birthday tomorrow with a cake and everything, so he goes out of the house without telling her to sell raffle tickets for his sports club

Meanwhile Vibeke is wound up in her own longings and dreams and has totally forgotten about Jon’s birthday, but instead decides to go to the library so she can get more of the romance novels she devours. Even for this short trip, she wants to look nice because, who knows, she might meet someone. She finds out that the library closed early this night, so she decides to stop and visit a carnival which is in town for the weekend. There she meets a young man, Tom, who is a carnival worker, and the two of them hit it off and wind up going to a bar together, and she stays out to bar closing.

Meanwhile Jon is having his own adventures with the strangers he meets selling tickets. The story goes back and forth between Jon and Vibeke usually switching from one to the other without any warning. Several times I thought we were still reading about Jon but the story had moved on to Vibeke or visa versa. There is a sense of eerie foreboding for both Jon and Vibeke as they interact with these strangers and get in and out of strangers’ cars on this cold winter night. One feels that both Jon and Vibeke are too trusting souls among all these strangers, and what is this eight year-old boy doing alone outside late at night?

‘Love’ as a literary novel is Norwegian minimalist realism with a vengeance. The sentences are short with little variety beyond subject, verb, object. The sentences for the mother Vibeke are nearly as simple as those for the boy Jon. Whereas the boy comes across as appropriately child-like, Vibeke comes across as almost childish with her romantic concerns and her almost totally forgetting about Jon. When she meets Tom she works hard to start a romance between them. The short staccato sentences add to the ominous mood.

Its creepy vibe makes this novella an intense read.


Grade :    B


9 responses to this post.

  1. Is this the Norwegian writer I’ve been reading about in prestigious literary publications lately? Wow, it does sound creepy, especially with the romance novels, which I’ve often thought can lead women the wrong way.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Kat,
      Yes, Hanne Orstavik must be the Norwegian writer you’ve been reading about, since she appears to be the only Norwegian writer getting reviews who doesn’t write detective novels. ‘Love’ has an interesting setup, eerie atmosphere, and is a quick read.



  2. A parent who forgets her child’s birthday and then forgets about him altogether and goes off drinking in a bar? This sounds so unlikely there must be some purpose to it.. is the author having a go at selfish parenting (women?) or something?

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Such a beautifully poignant and powerful little novella I found myself thinking about it a lot after I had finished.



  4. The bit about it being uncertain which character you’re reading sometimes, that sounds potentially a bit irritating. Did it work for you?

    The idea of a parent forgetting a kid’s birthday doesn’t surprise me at all. I know people that pretty much exactly that happened to.



    • Hi Max,
      I suppose part of the problem was that the son was child-like, and the mother was childish. I don’t think this Norwegian minimalism allows for great variations in the way characters act and think and speak. The sudden change of speakers without any indicastion was a minor irritant rather than a major irritant.
      Birthdays are more important in some families than in others, but for the kid they usually are important.



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