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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Days in the History of Silence

by
Merethe Lindstrøm


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Days in the History of Silence



Title: Days in the History of Silence
Author: Merethe Lindstrøm
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 212 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Days in the History of Silence - US
Days in the History of Silence - UK
Days in the History of Silence - Canada
Days in the History of Silence - India

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressive but bleak

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dagens Nyheter . 11/4/2012 Jan Arnald
Publishers Weekly . 1/7/2013 .
Svenska Dagbladet . 24/7/2012 Erik Bergqvist


  From the Reviews:
  • "Sällan har den melankoliska tystnaden -- den riktigt nordskandinaviska tystnaden -- fått en så fullskalig litterär behandling. (...) Merethe Lindstrøm driver på sätt och vis den traditionella nordiska prosan till dess slutpunkt. Kargare än så här blir det inte. Vemodet, ångesten över en tystnad som vi inte tycks komma ifrån, har fått sin slutgiltiga formulering. Det är som om hon nästan vill säga: Det får vara slut nu. Inte bara på det låsta, slutna, hämmade nordiska kynnet, utan också på den karga nordiska prosan." - Jan Arnald, Dagens Nyheter

  • "This remarkable novel, winner of the 2012 Nordic Council Literature Prize, explores the theme of silence in many different forms -- a childrenís game, a refuge, a lie, a punishment, a solution -- and shows its impact on those who long to be spoken to. (...) The prose is simple and elegant, revealing an extraordinary talent." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Ett tålmodigt växande bildrum, eller snarare olika rum som glider igenom, färgar, stör och förklarar varandra. (...) Det passar emellertid den här boken illa att referera dess intrig, som är rik utan att vara invecklad, mera scen än rörelse, på något vis bred men ändå tunn, full av diskreta men effektfulla paralleller och symboler som bara någon gång känns övertydliga." - Erik Bergqvist, Svenska Dagbladet

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Scandinavians have a somewhat taciturn reputation and it should come as no surprise that a novel with the title Days in the History of Silence plays up that mute reserve; nevertheless, it's amazing just how deeply author Merethe Lindstrøm delves into a sea -- a veritable abyss -- of silence here.
       The novel is narrated by Eva. A retired teacher, she is married to Simon, a former doctor more than ten years older than her. They had three daughters together, but the children are grown and living on their own. In old age now Simon has gone quiet -- really quiet. He doesn't say a word. It's unclear -- to Eva and everyone else -- whether it's dementia taking hold, or something else, but he has become entirely uncommunicative, much to Eva's frustration and grief. The kids are gently nudging her to put him in a home, but Eva can't quite bring herself to do that, even as Simon's unbreaking silence weighs on her greatly.
       Eva's account in Days in the History of Silence repeatedly returns to the past, as she only slowly fills out the picture of their lives. It begins with the memory of an exceptionally unsettling event from when Eva was a young mother -- something that she still carries with her, despite there not really being all that much to it. Several more significant aspects of their past also shed more light on the couple and their condition, as these are revealed and then slowly explained more fully.
       It turns out that Simon and part of his family spent much of the Second World War hidden in a house to escape the Nazis. Silence was necessary there, but tough on the young boy, and not surprisingly the whole experience, as well as the knowledge of what happened to many of his other relatives, as well as some of what he saw and heard, weighed heavily on Simon ever afterwards. Eva, too, has a bit of history -- before she even met Simon she gave birth to a son, whom she eventually gave away. She was too young to be a mother and rationalizes that it was the best course of action, and she pretends it didn't matter that much -- not even telling Simon until well into their relationship -- but clearly she hasn't been entirely able to put it behind her. Finally, there's the matter of their sometime housekeeper, Marija, whom they dismissed after she worked for them for some three years. Exactly how much a part of the family the Latvian woman became is only slowly revealed -- and the reason why they parted ways also only eventually revealed (yes, Simon and Eva have a tough time opening up and simply getting anything out ...).
       Days in the History of Silence is a study of silence, of a lack of openness, of suspicion, all concentrated in this couple, all coming to a head in their old age, manifesting itself most obviously -- but not only -- in Simon's final descent into completely cutting off communication.
       Typically, repeatedly, there are present-day scenes that peter out in silence:

     Mum, Helena said, turning to me.
     But there is nothing to be said, I replied.
     She looked at me, she was so disappointed.
       Or
     Her voice again. Are you there ? she asks.
     Yes, I say.
     She waits, we both wait.
     Mum, says Helena, was there something else you wanted to say ?
       But Eva can't bring herself to speak: yes, she still goes through the simple motions, unlike Simon, who has entirely given up even that, but even so, it always amounts to the conclusion that: 'there is nothing to be said'.
       Eva describes getting to know Simon, and their early dreams and ambitions:
He wanted to become a physician, he wanted to be with me. We would have a house, a child. Maybe several children. We won't look back. Is that my idea or his ?
       It all works out: he becomes a doctor, they become a family, with several kids. But the past can't be escaped just by deciding not to look back; it never let go its hold of them, and it pulls them down over the years.
       As to the Marija episode, Eva says early on:
     I do not miss her. I have a lot do.
     But there is something. Something I miss or perhaps I should rather say lack. She must have served a function, something more than I realized, since I notice this lack. Is that what we are for each other, a function others also can fulfill. I do not like that thought.
       Marija became part of their lives. A friend to the largely friendless, isolated couple. But they had to let her go, retreating into themselves (and their pasts).
       In the present, Simon is literally unable to articulate his needs -- but that has, in fact, always been their condition, their failure. At one point Eva notes about one of their daughters, Helena:
I see us in her. Everything we have been afraid of, our cowardice, it has become visible in her. The evasion, the silence.
       Yet even this self-awareness isn't sufficient to help Eva onwards at this point. They are sunk in that abyss of silence that they have created, helplessly lost in their almost entirely isolated world. Eva still has some nominal connection to the rest of the world, but one reason she can't send Simon away is because he really is all she has, even in this wordless state.
       Yes, Days in the History of Silence is terribly bleak. And even as all the silence-talk can get to be a bit heavy-handed, and even as Eva manipulates a bit too much in doling out information bit by bit (but then evasion and silence are her bread and butter, as she admits and recognizes ...), this is a very powerful novel, impressively done. But, yes, it can be hard going.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 August 2013

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Links:

Days in the History of Silence: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Merethe Lindstrøm was born in 1963.

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© 2013 the complete review

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