Professor Andersen’s Night

Dag Solstad

First Sentence:      It was Christmas Eve and Professor Andersen had a Christmas tree in the living room.

This book tells the tale of Professor Andersen and how he reacts after viewing a murder from his apartment window. It begins on Christmas eve when the fifty-five year old professor of literature is alone and enjoying his solitude. Then, on looking across the street he sees a young woman being killed. And yet he does nothing about it. He doesn’t intervene, he doesn’t report it, and in the days and weeks that follow he doesn’t even tell his closest friends. This book makes us ask ourselves how we would respond to such an event. It is like a literary Rear Window . And yes, it is very literary. It asks us to think about our consciousness and identity:

‘You do have eight great-grandparents,’ said Professor Andersen with emphasis on the words. ‘And there is probably barely a hundred years between the birth of the eldest of them and you. And already they’re no longer part of your consciousness.’

…and even gives opinions on literature itself…

Literature is not going to survive, not in the way we think of it. Its survival is just a matter of form, and that is no longer enough. All enthusiasm lies in the present, and in our day and age nothing can outdo the ability of commercialism to arouse enthusiasm and stir the hearts of the masses, and that is the spirit of the present time.

For all this literary posturing however, there is a decent story here and some very enjoyable writing. It may not be the best Norwegian novel I’ve read recently, that dubious honour still goes to The Faster I Walk The Smaller I Am, but this is an enjoyable read nonetheless. It even contains a few gems like this:

The ravages of time gnaw at even the most outstanding intellectual accomplishments and destroy them, making them pale and faded.

* * *

Last Sentence:     ‘A really hot bath, that would certainly do me good,’ he thought.

Last Sentence explained:      In the end Professor Andersen meets the murderer, accidentally, in a sushi bar and decides he will not interfere. The book ends with him wanting a bath.

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