My children are also books

A review of ``33'' by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold by another author

I've lived in Norway for half my life now, and for much of that time I wanted to find Norwegian literature that I liked. Something that I would actually enjoy reading, rather than merely being internationally popular or culturally correct. I am fussy, and I am looking for something special.

When I was still Professor at the university college, I would sit at Litteraturhuset (the cafe at the House of Literature), revelling in melted cheese sandwiches and staring longingly at the books for something (anything) worthy to exercise my Norwegian that wasn't a trite detective tale, or didn't taste like a dose of `tran' (Norway's mandatory version of omega 3 cod liver oil), revelling in a depressive protagonist who hides in the endless Norwegian forest to harbour suicidal memories of Nazis during the second world war, etc, etc ...

I used to read a lot, but lately I struggle to pull my head out of my work (that's a euphemism), and I get to speak and write Norwegian less and less these days anyway, so I look for books that can sweep me away with their prose and their thinking (something in the language to remind me why I stayed in the country). I like quirky, intelligent writing, but you can't fake it. Bottom line: the number of Norwegian books I've enjoyed over the years can be counted on one hand. It seems to me that Norwegian authors are generally either superficially describing actions in a mystery, or they are insufferably pretentious, and without irony.

To his credit, one of my best friends buys me a book each year to try to change my mind. And each year, I start optimistically and then it goes off the deep end. And then he bought me 33 by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, and it made me happy. It is quirky, intelligent, a little surreal, and all with a refreshing humility. At first, my English eyes were intimidated by the author's name. Oh, it starts delicately enough, and then goes all suicidal mountain-cabin broadsword warrior-princess on you. Flashes of forest-dwelling depressive farm-maidens cross my mind. But I am open minded. No one can be held responsible for their name, right? So keep going.

As it turns out, the book drew me in from the beginning. It is a book about a girl, standing in front of a boy asking to be loved, and when he passes away prematurely, he becomes her imaginary friend. As she herself falls ill (in fact it is never clear whether the illness is real or is a sympathetic allegory for her suffocating state of mind, but it doesn't matter) we learn that her lost love Ferdinand (now amongst the flowers) encouraged her to write a book about her love: mathematics. So she gestates this idea through her illness, and carries this child around in a plastic bag until it is ready for the world. Well, that was how I read it. You are never quite sure, but that doesn't matter either.

The duplicitous dangling of the reader on a string reminded me of my own book The Road Ahead, in which the protagonist is a ghost, or maybe not (you are never quite sure). Her desire to bear Ferdinand's child was seemingly through literature, but (meaning so much to her) it becomes her baby. This make me like the book even more, as this is also how I procreate. People often ask me: `Do you have kids?' and I sometimes answer: `Sure, they're just not human'. But then not everyone has a sense of humour.

The book, however, does have a sense of humour, however dark. From the Monty Pythonesque appearance of Albatross!, to the absurdities of an introverted mind. It has the feel of a diary of very personal and playful commentary, poking fun at dismal reality in a way that feels very familiar to me. Perhaps it's because we live in the same town?

In short, the book is charming and pensive, with a nicely down-played humour. I generally measure people's intelligence by their sense of humour. So now I am going to have to go out and buy Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold's other books. Finally, a Norwegian author(ess) to look forward to.

Ok, now I am feeling inspired.

MB Oslo Mon Jan 19 07:58:14 CET 2015