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Christmas Reading

We’ve come to that time of the year where the only sensible thing to do is to snuggle up under a blanket in the biggest, comfiest chair you can find, and get yourself something hot to drink and a good book. Well, we don’t do blankets, but we can help with the book part! At Norvik, we’ve put together a seasonal recommended reading list of our treasures fit for winter. These are perfect as stocking fillers for friends and family, or why not treat yourself for a few hours in that comfy chair during what the Swedes call mellandagarna (the days between Christmas and New Year)? Click on the link in each title below to visit our website for more information on the books, and how to buy.

 

Gunnlöth’s Tale

This spirited and at times sinister novel ensnares the reader in a tangled encounter between modern-day Scandinavia and the ancient world of myth. In the 1980s, a hardworking Icelandic businesswoman and her teenage daughter Dís, who has been arrested for apparently committing a strange and senseless robbery, are unwittingly drawn into a ritual-bound world of goddesses, sacrificial priests, golden thrones and kings-in-waiting. It is said that Gunnlöth was seduced by Odin so he could win the ‘mead’ of poetry from her, but is that really true, and why was Dís summoned to their world?

 

Little Lord 

Wilfred – alias Little Lord – is a privileged young man growing up in upper-class society in Kristiania (now Oslo) during the halcyon days before the First World War. Beneath the strikingly well-adjusted surface, however, runs a darker current; he is haunted by the sudden death of his father and driven to escape the stifling care of his mother for risky adventures in Kristiania’s criminal underworld. The two sides of his personality must be kept separate, but the strain of living a double life threatens breakdown and catastrophe. This best-selling novel by Johan Borgen, one of Norway’s most talented twentieth-century writers, is also an evocative study of a vanished age of biplanes, variety shows, and Viennese psychiatry.

 

Bang

29 January 1912. In a train compartment in Ogden, Utah, a Danish author was found unconscious. The 54-year-old Herman Bang was en route from New York to San Francisco as part of a round-the-world reading tour. It was a poignant end for a man whose life had been spent on the move. Having fled his birthplace on the island of Als ahead of the Prussian advance of 1864, he was later hounded out of Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna and Prague by homophobic laws and hostility to his uncompromising social critique as journalist, novelist, actor and dramaturge. Dorrit Willumsen re-works Bang’s life story in a series of compelling flashbacks that unfold during his last fateful train ride across the USA. Along the way, we are transported to an audience in St Petersburg with the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, to a lovers’ nest in a flea-ridden Prague boarding house, to the newsrooms and variety theatres of fin-de-siècle Copenhagen, and to a Norwegian mountainside, where Claude Monet has come to paint snow and lauds Bang’s writing as literary impressionism.

 

 

Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden

A richly-illustrated one-volume hardback edition of Selma Lagerlöf’s classic tale. This novel started out as a commissioned school reader designed to present the geography of Sweden to nine-year-olds, but Lagerlöf’s work quickly won international fame and popularity, which it still enjoys over a century later. It is a fantastic story of a naughty boy who climbs on the back of a gander and is then carried the length of the country, learning both geography and good behaviour as he goes. It is a story of Sweden, where every province has its tale and out of the many fantasies, a diverse country emerges; a country of the great and the grand, majestic nature and lords and ladies, but also a country of farmers and fishers, goose-herds and Sami, miners and loggers, and of animals – rats and eagles and elk, foxes and geese and all the other creatures who are part of the life cycle of the land.

 

A House in Norway  

A House in Norway tells the story of Alma, a divorced textile artist who makes a living from weaving standards for trade unions and marching bands. She lives alone in an old villa, and rents out an apartment in her house to supplement her income. She is overjoyed to be given a more creative assignment, to design a tapestry for an exhibition to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Norway, but soon finds that it is a much more daunting task than she had anticipated. Meanwhile, a Polish family moves into her apartment, and their activities become a challenge to her unconscious assumptions and her self-image as a good feminist and an open-minded liberal. Is it possible to reconcile the desire to be tolerant and altruistic with the imperative need for creative and personal space?

 

Childhood 

Kerstin Ekman’s wonderful poem Childhood is presented here as a dual language English/Swedish publication illustrated with original photographs provided by the author. Kerstin Ekman is primarily known as a novelist, but she has occasionally turned to free verse, especially when the subject is autobiographical. In 1993-1994, Swedish TV 1 conducted a series of talks with prominent writers under the rubric ‘Seven Boys and Seven Girls’. In place of an ordinary interview, Kerstin Ekman read aloud Barndom (Childhood). The prose passages are quotations from Ekman’s 1988 novel Rövarna i Skuleskogen (The Forest of Hours).

 

The Angel House

Also by Kerstin Ekman is the novel The Angel House, in which Ekman provides an alternative, subversive history of the community in which she grew up. It is a story that stretches through a century, told through the perspective of the generation of women living in those times:

A giant had a washbowl which he set down in the forest at the base of a moraine. It was made of granite and deeply indented, and he filled it with clear, amber water which looked like solidified resin when the sun shone on it on a summer’s afternoon.

In winter, the top layer of the water froze into a lid and the entire bowl went very still, just like the forest around it. Then, down at its deepest point, a pattern of stripes and dashes would move. A pike, if there had been one, would have seen that it was not broken lengths of hollow reed swaying there but thousands of his brothers the perch, sluggishly and cautiously changing positions.

Across the top of the lid spun a rope-covered ball and after it, heavy but fast, skated men with clubs in their hands. They were dressed in black knee breeches and grey woollen sweaters. About half of them had black, peaked caps with both earflaps turned up and kept in place with two thin shoelaces knotted on top of their heads.

Half had red knitted hats with tassels. Sometimes one of the ones in peaked caps went whizzing off with long blade strokes, feet inclining inwards, guiding the ball in front of him with his club.           If a tassel-hat got in his way, both of them would go crashing onto the rough ice near the shore, flattening the broken reeds and sending ice and coarse snow spraying round their metal blades.

Round the edge of the Giant’s Washbowl, people stood watching, virtually all men, coming so far out of town. But Ingrid Eriksson was standing there too. She stood there every winter Sunday, whenever there was a match on.

 

For further reading in the New Year, watch out for the brilliant Pobeda, coming very soon.

 

Finally, we’d like to wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas!

 

 

 

 

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Little Lord, by Johan Borgen, Preview

For those wanting to take a peek inside our latest Norwegian publication, here are the first few pages of Little Lord, by Johan Borgen, translated by Janet Garton. The launch for the book is November 14, 2016 with details coming soon. If you like what you read, it is available to buy at all good book stores and online >

Little Lord, Johan BorgenThe uncles and aunts came in snorting from the cold. Their breath looked like smoke coming out of their mouths as they passed through the narrow porch, where the maid was waiting to receive them. Then they came in, stamping, to the large square hall with the elk’s head over the fireplace opposite and tapestries on all the walls. There it was warm. There it was inside.
   Little Lord was standing on the carpet in the middle of the drawing room, listening to their arrival through the closed door. He was aware of exactly what was happening as they entered in turn and breathed in the aroma, an aroma of wood and carpets and the discreet hum of an imminent family dinner, asparagus soup, trout, venison steak. He knew where and how the housemaid Lilly would help them out of their overcoats, how Uncle René would say with mild coquettishness: ‘No thank you, young lady, I’m not that old …’ and walk over with his sable-lined coat and hang it in the cloakroom to the left of the front door, whilst tubby Uncle Martin – despite the fact that he was much younger – would let himself be assisted with straightforward pleasure: anything to make life easier … and the aunts, how they would say hello quickly to one another in front of the mirror, say hello to a reflection as it appeared – and then shake hands properly just after with the real person, and how someone would say something about the cold and that there was snow in the air. Little Lord could see it more clearly than if he had seen it and hear it more fully and richly in his imagination as he stood there in the middle of the room, exactly where he should be when they came in, to play the little host who just happened to be standing there when the housemaid opened the door a moment later. A ritual each time – so that Mother could then emerge as if slightly surprised from the interior of the house, just a moment too late, the busy housewife … He stood in the middle of the floor, enjoying it. A nervous pleasure at the festivities to come made him tingle. He heard the train pass – an outgoing train to Skarpsno – just below the windows facing towards Frognerkilen bay. On any other day he would have run to the bay window, which was a step higher than the rest of the drawing room, in order to see the shower of sparks from the tall chimney of the locomotive come dancing out into the dark winter’s afternoon, and slowly fade in the air or along the banks of snow on both sides of the railway line, often right into the garden, between the summerhouse and the old fountain with the walnut tree standing proudly beside it.
   Not today, no sparks today. Nothing other than to be standing in the middle of the floor because that was where he should be, and because he enjoyed it, and someone would say ‘the little man of the house’ – it was Aunt Kristine who would say it: ‘the little man of the house, already at his post’, she would say, and there would be an intoxicating scent of cocoa and vanilla around her – or perhaps that was just something he imagined because she produced ‘home-made confectionery’ in her tiny little kitchen, and had her own shop in Kongens gate, and everyone said she was ‘admirable’; at one time she had played the lute and sung in elegant restaurants abroad, and once someone had said that she was admirable, but perhaps a little, you know … and then one of those quick sideways glances from Mother which indicated that there was a child listening. But Mother knew that the child knew that Aunt Kristine’s eyes became as soft as velvet after dinner, and her voice became melodious, and she quietly kicked off her shoes under the sofa and leant forward with her plunging décolleté.
   And he could see through the closed door how Uncle René folded his thin hands which could disappear into each other as he came back from the cloakroom, and briefly inspected his moustache which was waxed at the points as he passed the mirror, and with a diminutive comb which appeared and disappeared in his magician’s hands – as everything could appear and disappear in those hands – smoothed his thin greyblond hair, smoothed it down across his forehead, with one of those lightning movements his hands were created for, and how a moment later he would be standing in the doorway on the point of entering, in order to – at the last moment and with exaggerated politeness – make way for Aunt Charlotte, who in contrast would come foaming in with the silken rush of her many skirts – and Uncle René would say ‘mon petit garçon’ and raise the dark brown eyebrows which Mother had once said he dyed, and twinkle down at him with a playfulness which didn’t really have any special meaning, but was agreeable, and formed part of the occasion as well …
   After that Uncle Martin with his tight-fitting striped trousers, which spread out grandly from the prison of his waistcoat, would say his piece about ‘masculinum’; but that would not be until after Mother had come in.
  Not until then – a good while after the others – and he knew it was in order to make a point of her lack of importance – would Aunt Klara come in, black-clothed and flat-chested, and excuse herself more and more, the more heartily Mother welcomed her …
   Little Lord stood in the middle of the floor, listening to the sound of the train receding. Soon the incoming train from Skarpsno would pass, and for a moment throw its long light beams out over Frognerkilen, where the ice gleamed dully and there was hardly any snow. And this clamour from a world outside merely increased the tingling pleasure at being here, being inside, at the many people, at the smell of roast venison, at the memory of the gentle plop of the bottles of red wine which had been opened a good hour ago … at the shimmer of coloured light from the oriental lamps in the bay window. It flickered over brass trays and scary Bengal masks which looked friendly now – and dancers in Meissen porcelain, who stood gracefully frozen in the uneven light, dancing brilliantly to the end of time on the dresser, unremarked by the grown-ups who walked past them or glanced at them distractedly, but not by him who had made their flowing movements, poised to leap, identical with a movement in himself: poised on the brink.

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Little Lord by Johan Borgen

Norvik Press is thrilled to announce the publication of its English translation of Johan Borgen’s Norwegian classic Little Lord.

Little Lord, Johan BorgenJohan Borgen’s Little Lord is the story of the adolescent Wilfred Sagen, nicknamed Lillelord (Little Lord) by his mother, who is growing up in Kristiania, later to become Oslo, in the years just before the first World War. The novel focuses on a period of about 18 months, from early 1912 to autumn 1913, when Wilfred is 14-15 years old, although there are many flashbacks to his earlier life. He is a precocious only child, the darling of the family, intellectually far ahead of his class, a gifted piano player and sophisticated art lover. Yet behind this polished façade there is another Wilfred, an adventurer who seeks out risk, who steals out of the house at night and roams the streets of Kristiania, the leader of a band of boys who steal, capable of violence and of arson. As time goes on it becomes increasingly difficult for him to keep the two sides of his personality distinct, and he eventually has a breakdown, which leaves him incapable of speech, literally silences him. He is taken to Vienna to see a psychiatrist – whose name is not mentioned, but who bears a striking resemblance to Freud – and is seemingly cured, though the psychiatrist warns him that his neurosis needs long-term therapy if he is to be properly healed. Wilfred returns to his old double life, but his desperation is only repressed, not resolved, and eventually the past catches up with him and he runs out of places to hide.

Borgen’s novel is a Bildungsroman, a study of a young boy growing up and his intellectual, emotional and sexual initiation into adulthood. It is a study of psychosis, and a portrait of the artist as a young man. It is a city novel; the reader can follow Wilfred’s excursions around the map of Kristiania/Oslo from the comforts of his upper-middle-class home on Drammensveien, across the bay by ferry to the pastoral idyll of Bygdøy, by tram to the east-end poverty of Grünerløkken or in Uncle Martin’s automobile up to the open-air display ground in Etterstad. It is also a cultural and historical study of a whole society, one on the brink of a devastating upheaval which will change the lives of all its members irrevocably.

Available at all good bookstores and online>