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.

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The Faster I Walk The Smaller I Am

Kjersti A. Skomsvold

First Sentence: I like it when I can be done with something.

This book will turn you inside out:

I identify with bananas, for not only am I hunched over, I’ve also got a flower without sex organs and fruit without seed, and therefore I am, according to Buddha, meaningless. And I also believe Buddha was on to something where the hopelessness of all earthly endeavors is concerned, because I feel hopeless; I stole from the grocery store, gave Age B. the time, buried a time capsule, baked rolls, turned up the hot plate, tried to plan my own funeral, tried to become a tree, and then the most difficult thing of all – I used the telephone, which was really too much for me – and yet I’m still sitting here in my apartment and I’m just as afraid of living life as I am of dying. And wasn’t it Buddha who also said that everything is suffering, and I think that if I’d been religious, I would’ve been a Buddhist, and If I’d been a fruit, I would’ve been a banana.

This book will destroy you:

I put my groceries on the counter and the boy keeps talking to the girl as he scans them. He picks up the jam and beeps it across, but I don’t have the courage to ask him to open it. He doesn’t tell me how much it costs, but I can see the number on the screen. When I give him my money, I touch the palm of his hand, but he doesn’t notice. I brought a net bag with me, I won’t ask him for one of the grocery bags under the counter or wonder what else he’s keeping down there. I just pack my groceries into my bag and go. And if I was kidnapped five minutes later, and the cops came by and showed him my picture, the boy would say he’d never seen me before in his life.

Read it.

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