Monday, September 04, 2006

The Seducer (Forføreren) by Jan Kjærstad

The Seducer (Forføreren) by Norwegian author, Jan Kjærstad, was finally published in English translation in the United States this summer. It is the first book in a trilogy of his that was originally written in the mid-1990s. The book concerns the activities of television documentary producer, Jonas Wergeland. It positions itself as somewhere in between biography and fiction, or at least, that's the book's primary conceit as its language and methods exist wholly in the territory of fiction. However, the enormous presence of all the characters in the book lend it to the idea of biography, they are vivid and many times larger than life. In the beginning, in a chapter called "The Big Bang", the one event that starts the book's mechanism occurs, Jonas comes home after working on his television programme abroad, Jonas comes to his apartment in Oslo to find his wife dead on their living room floor. It is from this event that Jonas Wergeland's universe is blown apart. The book from here on in consists of past reflections, memories of childhood, family interactions, and sexual encounters in his life. These events are bracketed by chapters dealing with the subject's television programme "Thinking Big", a documentary series that focusses on an event in a famous Norwegian's life (such as Ole Bull, Fridtjof Nansen, Gustav Vigeland, Armauer Hansen, Per Spook and Knut Hamsun) and uses this to ruminate upon Norway's place in the world; it looks at the world through the prism of Norway. The seemingly omniscient narrator (and as yet, unknown) is quite critical of Norwegian life and has some startling insight into contempoary history. If you know very little of the History of Norway, The Seducer is certainly a fun and exciting way to educate oneself. It is a book full of active learning and responses to contempoary and past events. As Jonas drifts into his past, considering who could have been responsible for his wife's grisly end, his actions speak to the reader as the sign of a man with an active imagination, one who is able to examine history by his sheer contrary stance to it. Time and again, Jonas' life is marked by his conscious decision to be different, to shake things up by doing things contrary to the zeitgeist. It is usually during these moments that the narrator is able to make comments about the single-mindedness of Norwegian culture and its resistence to certain kinds of change. I found these moments of the book quite fascinating. This is not to say that the book is all history and politics-- it is the tale of a Seducer, after all. Jonas Weregeland is a seducer of the Norwegian public in watching and loving his programme and he is also a lover of women. That is to say he is the great lover of women, he does nothing to entice them to stay with him, he merely has to look in their direction, they sense his presence and must have him. This is the way numerous sexual events are described during his adolescence. Jonas is able to have intimate knowledge with the most wonderful and bizzare women (each with last name abbreviated), who in later years become experts in their fields and great champions of Norway. All of these events form a mosaic in the life of a man, a man who is bound up in his identity as a Norwegian and as a citizen of the world, at the same time that he sets himself apart from his homeland, he also illustrates that he can never escape it. This book is a charming and exciting read from start to finish. Jan Kjærstad is an author of enormous skill, his tale of Jonas Wergeland raises many questions, it makes me thirst for the second book in the trilogy.

Further information:

the Complete Review

Odin Trends in Contemporary Norwegian Literature

Publisher's information:

Overlook Press

H. Aschehoug & Co

Arcadia Books

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