‘Novel 11, Book 18’ by Dag Solstad – “What bothers me is that my life is so unimportant.”

 

‘Novel 11, Book 18’ by Dag Solstad    (2001) – 161 pages             Translated from the Norwegian by Sverre Hyngstad

 

‘Novel 11, Book 18’ is a novel that I wound up feeling deeply ambivalent about. First I will explain the situation depicted in the novel since its title gives the reader no clue as to what is going on.

Norwegian Bjorn Hansen is about 50 years old. Eighteen years ago Bjorn left his wife and his two-year old son because he was strongly attracted to the young woman Turid Lammers. He left his management position in Oslo and moved to the small town of Kongsburg about 50 miles from Oslo. There he runs the office of the County Treasurer.

For several years, the woman Turid Lammers becomes the dazzling focal point, the center of things, in Bjorn’s life. They both become involved in the Kongsburg Theater Society, a group that puts on amateur operettas which are crowd-pleasers. Up until he met Turid, Bjorn considered himself a slow, introverted, and not very spontaneous person.

Art and literature were not proper subjects to him, they were interests one could cultivate in one’s spare time, not means whereby to acquire a position, which he, with a genuine assuming matter-of-factness, saw as the end of academic study.”

However after living with Turid for twelve years, Bjorn becomes disenchanted.

Because Turid Lammers had faded. She had turned forty-four, and it had long been clear that the ravages of the years had left their mark on her face and body. Her face had become sharp, scraped, hard. How he missed the softness of it! But that was gone forever, and along with it many of the ideas on which Bjorn Hansen had built his whole way of life.”

After this brusque assessment of Turid, he eventually moves out of her house into an apartment in Kongsburg.

Later his son Peter who Bjorn abandoned 18 years ago moves into the apartment with him in order to attend college in Kongsburg. Bjorn discovers that he really does not like his son very much.

He couldn’t endure his son’s preachy and boastful manner.”

I guess the reason that kept me fascinated with this novel for much of the way was Bjorn’s blunt honesty about himself and those around him. Here we have a man leaving a woman because she has aged and her looks have hardened. This might be despicable, but it does happen. Then we have this same man who finds out that he doesn’t like his grown child very much. These are natural emotions, but they are rarely discussed in books because they are difficult to deal with.

However ultimately, despite it’s quite fascinating early situations, I must downgrade my opinion of ‘Novel 11, Book 18’ for Bjorn Hansen’s final self-imposed plan which struck me as entirely incomprehensible and senseless.

In the last third of the novel Bjorn Hansen travels to Vilnius, Lithuania and subjects himself to an incomprehensible future (I won’t give away this denouement) which strained this reader’s and I would imagine most readers’ credibility. Because I could not believe that anyone would constrain himself in this way, this severely detracted from my appreciation of this novel.

 

Grade:   B-

 

 

4 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Tony — once again, our reading paths cross, as I read & reviewed this book last month (if you’re interested https://youmightaswellread.com/2022/01/17/dag-solstads-novel-11-book-18-everymans-quest-for-meaning/ ) Like you, I was a little ambivalent about the novel; I thought it well written & witty, enjoyed parts (Solstad has a very dry but very real wit) but rather emotionally cold.
    I agree with you about Bjórn’s reaction to Turid’s aging but I saw it more in the context of his search for meaning, i.e., he had structured his life around the adventure of the great “love affair,” a fantasy that they both bought into (Solstad makes it very clear that Bjórn wasn’t actually in love with Turid, even at the beginning). When her declining charms make it impossible to continue the fantasy, Bjórn has to look for something else to make existence meaningful, i.e., due to something other than mere chance (which is how the Turid affair began). He finally settles on an act of will that he thinks, rightly or wrongly, will defeat the randomness of existence. I agree that to an ordinarily sane person, Bjórn’s choice was pretty bizarre!
    I liked Novel 11 well enough to explore Solsad’s other writings, but must admit I’m not in a rush to do so!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi JanaKay,
      I read your review and agree with you for the most part, but apparently you felt that his final act made some kind of sense. For me, nothing in the novel up to that point justified his final act, and thus I found it preposterous, ludicrous, and spoiled the novel for me.
      I liked the first section the best when he and Turid get involved in community theatre and was hoping the novel would continue in that vein.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. After Janakay’s review of this for my month of Nordic reading and now yours, I don’t think I’ll rush to read this one. I have read another of his books though, Professor Andersen’s Night and would give that a ‘B’ by your ratings – I was expecting a psychodrama ‘Rear Window’ style, but got a moral discussion that wasn’t as interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Annabel
      I am not a big fan of Karl Ove Knausgaard and now not a big fan of Dag Solstad, so I have to go back to August Strindberg, Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, Stig Dagerman, and Karin Boye to find Scandinavian writers I really like.

      Liked by 1 person

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