This summer, George and I went on holiday to Kopenhagen and Oslo.
Close to the royal gardens in the centre of Oslo is the Litteraturhuset, the ‘house of literature’. It has a café as well as a bookshop, and hosts cultural events too. As we passed it I smiled my best smile at George, who kindly agreed to postpone our plans to visit the harbour by half an hour so I could go in yet another book store.
I had a chat with the bookseller, who told me that he loves Amsterdam and would live there much rather than in Oslo (imagine that!) but would miss fishing for Mackerel in summer. Being a good salesman, he then directed my attention to the English translations of Norwegian books. There were some classics – Jo Nesbø and Knut Hamsun, who I both didn’t dare try as I think them too gruesome and modernist for me – and two books by Dag Solstad who, according to this bookseller, is the best Norwegian author alive. (I know next to nothing about Norwegian literature so I had to take his word for it.) They both seemed interesting but hard to judge by their blurb, so I picked the blue one.
I’ve already had a peek – The first few pages of Professor Andersen’s Night give a detailed description of how he carefully lays out his Christmas dinner, dresses for the occasion and savours every bite. He has some coffee and cognac afterwards and stares out of his window in contemplative Christmas spirit, only to see a woman in the apartment building across from him get brutally murdered… I’ll keep you updated.
According to the bookseller, Dag Solstad was a hippie in the 70s but wrote this book in the 90s when he had lost most of his idealism, which bleeds through in the novel. It is a common thought that although we might die and be forgotten, we can find comfort in the thought that our art will endure. Solstad might not even believe that.
He added that he has read several pages of this translation to see whether it captures the atmosphere of the original, which it does (would he have told me if it doesn’t?). So I, ever inclined to buy books, decided that being a good tourist isn’t only about taking pictures of old buildings and going on boat tours of the fjords but also about reading. I walked out of the store with a new book in hand feeling altogether pleased with myself.