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.