Unlike some of the earlier books, My Struggle: Book Four starts like a proper story — of the author as an 18 year old taking a job in the sparsely populated north of Norway as a school teacher in a small school — but soon devolves into the usual highly refined stream of consciousness narrative, diving back into the past, especially his parents’ divorce and his father’s alcoholism. The author also drinks prodigious amounts during the book, that is, during his teenage years, so much so that one wonders about how he avoided alcohol poisoning, freezing to death during ill-timed walks in the snow wearing inappropriate clothes, or simply destroying his liver.
Much time is spent discussing his sexual frustration and mishaps, in detail, which may be appropriate given the time span covered, but yawn…
My favorite part of the book is the description of northern Norway, the insular life of the village where everyone knows everyone and the author cannot do anything without his (barely younger than him) pupils noticing and commenting, and the mere notion that a newly-minted high-school graduate can be an effective teacher. I also found very interesting the descriptions of how he started to write, self-taught and isolated, trying out different styles.
In the gloomy vein of Out Stealing Horses, I Refuse is the story of two best friends who had a sudden fallout. Decades later, they meet each other again by chance and remember, in alternating chapters, their childhoods, one quite awful and violent, but with an unexpected successful ending, the other apparently peaceful and loving but with a sad outcome.
The story is told in a perfectly architected manner and with wonderful shadowy language (and some puzzling run-on sentences that I assume were in the general text rather than introduced by the translator). Still, I did not feel that the story rose above a fairly standard personal story, or great sadness about losing family and friends.
I’m just a little obsessed with Jo Nesbo’s police series. The Son is the latest installment, and although bodies are falling throughout it, it feels strangely calm, ordered even, as it is the story of a revenge, and as such the informed reader (and the police) know very well who is next. (The uninformed reader should be able to start with this book and follow along very well, even without having read the previous books in the series, as the detectives summarize the past action for the rookies on the force, and us.)
It’s so difficult to review a mystery without giving away the plot, so I will skirt any summarization and just say that the author cunningly exploits how an excellent listener can leverage years of prison confessions to his benefit. Parts of the action are hard to believe (for instance, wouldn’t the police, even with limited means, watch the house of a serial killer night and day?) and the ending is rather unbelievable but the revenge narrative is full of new twists and both the narrator and the hero/serial killer eminently interesting and even likable.
My Struggle: Book Three goes back to before book 1, when the author was still in elementary school (actually the summer before he started school) and recalls his father’s rigid parenting, not well balanced by this mother’s warm and attentive, although no-nonsense nurturing, especially when she spends a year studying at a distant college and he is left with his father and older brother during the week. Having read book 1 and book 2, I found this installment to be quite sedate, maybe too much so. It’s plain spoken like the other two but without the adult asides that pepper the others, and I missed that a bit. It is, however, a great portrait of growing up in the 70s, in a brand-new subdivision where all families are, apparently, the same, with lots of children allowed to roam very freely compared to now and lots of (mild) mischief occurred.
What will book 4 bring?
Reading the latest Harry Hole police thriller, Police, one may think that Norway, or at least Oslo, is crawling with corrupt police officers — not an improvement over the last one reviewed here, Phantom, that suggested, with the same intensity, that the crawling was done by drug dealers, especially when secret alliances exist between the corrupt cops and city government. In any case, Harry Hole must be made of sturdy stuff to come back from the semi-dead of the end of Phantom, and the amount of bloodshed and gruesomeness is slightly diminished, thankfully… so there’s more room for character development and snide side comments about society. Recommended even to readers for whom it would be the first introduction to Harry.
It’s Fine By Me reads like an autobiographical novel but I may be over-interpreting. In any case, in a classic coming-of-age story we meet a sad boy with an alcoholic, violent dad (now departed), a depressed mom, a dead brother, and not much of a future at school. He does have a friend, a sense of humor, if a most cynical one, and one luminous memory of a farming couple who took him in for a very short time when he was young and restored his hope, so the mood is not quite as dark as other Petterson novels. Still, not a book to choose when you are feeling blue.
Out Stealing Horses are the memories of a 60-something who settles in an isolated farm after his wife’s death after a life in the city. The farm is close to where he spent summers with his father shortly after WWII, lost a friend, lost his dad, and learned about his dad’s resistance past and other secrets.
It’s always difficult to get a feel for a translated book. This one is very matter of fact: the man gets up, makes his breakfast, walks his dog, is worried about snow. Not much happens in the book, at least in the present: the past is tumultuous, if often hazy. And there are very few words: all the action, as little as there is, occurs in the character’s mind.
I found the book to be a very effective reminder of how wars mark not just their actors, but the next generations.