Posts Tagged ‘norwegian’

December 8, 2008

If Tao Lin is the self-referential, disaffected freak-pop on the literary twenty-something’s jukebox, then Erlend Loe is the guy sitting in the corner at the piano, picking out notes that eventually turn into a tune. Naive.Super is a tiny charmer, a ripe fig that falls out of a budget store Christmas cracker onto your toe. Sure, it’s 12 years old, but it remains a fresh antithesis to the meta-literary swagger of the 21st century, an antidote to superanalysis and overcomplexity.

It’s Christmas, and the protagonist (no name at first) is about to lose a croquet game to his brother. Not only does he lose the game, he also loses it generally, and big time. So he decides to take a break. He meets a child called Borre (misspelled because I can’t figure out how to do accents on my computer yet. Norwegian trivia: Borre is the Norwegian equivalent to a name like Hubert or Eugene), with whom he plays animal-numbering games: how many animals have you seen in your life? He rediscovers the ataractic pleasures of childhood toys, he reads books about time. He takes a trip to New York.

Often when I see someone (read: a wanker) being self-indulgent (read: “my music, you know, it’s kind of neo-art-folk”) I say disbelievingly: “Absolutely no irony!” Well, it applies here too, but not in the bad way. The most surprising thing about this book is its simple directness; its lack of irony and violence. Usually when book plots get described like in the paragraph above, anticipation builds up — the feeling that there is something bigger bubbling under the who-what-where details. But in the case of Naive.Super, there’s actually not much more under the surface than what you find out straight away. It’s definitely not the worse off for it; Naive.Super is gently pained and interesting and sweet. The protagonist’s curious sidesteps into feeling alive are treated with lightness and dignity. Though if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel strange not receiving the pistol whip of verbal upheavals and sarcastic depradations from what looks and seems like another disaffected-youth novel.

Another good thing about this book is that it’ll take you three days maximum. Loe’s amiable observations aren’t incisive enough to be life-changing, but it’s a charming public transport companion. In fact, Naive.Super is a pretty good companion, full stop.

Yes, it’s about hunger. It is about the nameless protagonist’s addiction to a state so all-encompassing that it allows and eventually requires the sufferer to forego usual/rational thought and deed, but is so unsustainable that desperate measures are necessary to maintain his existence. It is also about denial, physical and psychological. Knut Hamsun’s direct, modernist style stuffs the reader into the narrow crevice between the narrator’s brain and his skull, evoking painful awareness. His compulsion towards the state of hunger is a way to escape from the ideas which are too large for his head: short, frequent, violent bursts of inspiration are frittered away by the mind now too skittish from lack of nourishment to contrive an activity for the next half an hour, let alone put together a piece denouncing the despised Immanuel Kant, or a one-act drama set in the Middle Ages. These attempts at greatness (and money-making) are made, but endangered by his weakness, his faintness, and an absence of funds sustained by continuous freudian acts.

Hunger, or escape, is the only resolution, the only goal. Hamsun challenges the mind with the hunger artist’s (a Paul Auster term) peripatetic days, featuring street names so unfamiliar to this reader that they might as well have been imaginary. His vagrant meanderings take as signposts multiple mesmerising short-term plans, more often than not the recollection of an acquaintance, or an office, where he might go and beg money or earn a living. Forays to his editor’s officer, or Kierulf the baker, or a shop assistant who owes him change, have various outcomes which are invariably negative. He is downtrodden, but the downward steps are his own. The novel ends with what seems a peripeteia, but is really a continuation; it is a radical way of sustaining the pain, the escape to facilitate further escapes, a solution which is not a resolution.

This edition includes a pedantic translator’s appendix and note, which is reassuring and (by reason of its distaste of the two earlier translations) amusing. It also includes an introduction by way of an essay by Paul Auster, which is passionate and involving.

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