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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

In the Wake

by
Per Petterson


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

To purchase In the Wake



Title: In the Wake
Author: Per Petterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 202 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: In the Wake - US
In the Wake - UK
In the Wake - Canada
In the Wake - India
Dans le sillage - France
Im Kielwasser - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: I kjølvannet
  • Translated by Anne Born

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid account of a slice of life in the wake of a shattering event

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A+ 25/1/2003 Rachel Cusk
NZZ . 6/02/2007 Andreas Breitenstein
The New Yorker . 10/12/2012 James Wood
The NY Times A 17/8/2006 S. Kirk Walsh
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/10/2006 Max Winter
The Observer . 9/2/2003 Kate Kellaway
The Observer . 28/10/2007 Heather Thompson
The Times . 26/10/2007 Christina Koning
TLS . 30/11/2007 Emily Brookes


  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "He could have been forgiven for presenting us with something chaotic and impenetrably subjective, but In the Wake is such a delicately structured piece of writing that one hardly feels the author's presence at all: the story of Arvid is impeccably imagined and at times grotesquely comic. (...) What is really gratifying, though, in Petterson's wrenching, absorbing novel, is the grace it accords the gift of self-expression, which Arvid newly apprehends as inextricable from life itself." - Rachel Cusk, Daily Telegraph

  • "Kälte und Dunkelheit, Selbstentfremdung und Einsamkeit grundieren Pettersons Roman, und auch Norwegens Winterlandschaft birgt wenig Linderung. (...) Im Kielwasser ist ein Purgatorium, nicht unähnlich einer Sauna (.....) Doch geht es um mehr als nur um privates Leid. Ein Abgesang auf die Fortschrittsgläubigkeit einer ganzen Generation steckt in diesem Roman." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The prose of In the Wake is not as complex as that of the later book, but it has the same strange abysmal openings, moments when temporality seems to crumble and the narrator peers over the brink of deep distances." - James Wood, The New Yorker

  • "(W)hat separates Mr. Petterson from others who have written on this theme is his ability to immerse the reader in Arvidís dislocated state of loss and isolation. He accomplishes this by using an elliptical -- and often poetic -- first-person voice instead of conventional straight-ahead storytelling. (...) In the Wake is, among other things, a story about literature itself, about its power to illuminate grief and inspire resilience." - S. Kirk Walsh, The New York Times

  • "In the Wake is a slow exercise in avoidance by digression. Petterson writes with a grim, morbid hand, allowing hope in only at the very last minute. His words have a music reminiscent of W. G. Sebald, though with fewer grace notes. Tastefully translated by Anne Born, the novel swells with muted lyricism." - Max Winter, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The novel is startling, especially its opening. It takes a while to adjust to it, like a plunge into icy water, after which the body temperature must revert to normal. (...) t is prose you can almost inhale - the atmosphere is clear and overwhelming." - Kate Kellaway, The Observer

  • "His vision of humanity shines so brightly it hurts." - Heather Thompson, The Observer

  • "Petterson is a fine writer, and there are some austerely lyrical passages -- in particular those describing the Norwegian landscape. There are moments, too, of dry humour, which help to relieve the angst. But readers in search of light relief should give this novel a miss." - Christina Koning, The Times

  • "(A) novel of absence in both theme and style. (...) In the Wake is an intense and moving work, surprising in its contradictions: tragic yet humorous, its careful descriptions of everyday details suggest the emptiness of those who survive." - Emily Brookes, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Arvid, the forty-three-year-old author narrating this story, claims:

"I cope," I say. "I always have."
       But he's not coping very well. Indeed, he sounded more convincing earlier, admitting -- though not aloud:
I have been on my way down for a long time, and now I am there.
       His life is overshadowed by a terrible event: a ferry fire several years earlier in which his parents and two of his brothers died; "everyone remembers that fire", he notes -- and, especially in the author's native Scandinavia, they certainly do: it was the Scandinavian Star disaster of 7 April 1990, in which over 150 people perished, including author Petterson's parents and two of his brothers.
       Arvid continues to be in something of a daze -- or at least he is, often, in the novel. He hasn't been able to write anything for ages ("now I am one of the middle-aged forgotten"), his marriage fell apart, he rarely sees his two daughters. It could be worse: one of the few 'events' in the novel is his brother winding up in hospital after attempting suicide.
       The book is an account of that struggle to somehow make headway against the overwhelming grief and guilt Arvid feels (he was supposed to have be on the ferry as well, intensifying his survivor's guilt). "I am looking for something, but I do not know what", he admits, and there's an aimlessness to his excursions, his reading, almost his every movement. He blanks out, hardly aware of time passing -- and painfully aware of it.
       He suggests:
     I am writing myself into a possible future. Then the first thing I must do is to picture an entirely different place, and I like to do that because here it has become impossible.
       But writing himself into a possible future also proves almost overwhelmingly difficult.
       Arvid has contact with others -- he 'kidnaps' one daughter for an afternoon, interacts with shopkeepers when making purchases, unburdens himself to a neighbour, talks with his brother and his brother's wife -- but he's barely a part of this interactive world. It's most obvious in his relationship with a new neighbour, a Kurd who has just moved into the house with his family, the language barrier making almost any communication impossible, even as they both try to connect.
       Coming to some sort of terms with what happened and trying to move on is a painfully slow process, yet though the atmosphere in In the Wake is consistently Scandinavian-gloomy, it does offer some hope. Never false, easy hope, but more substantial belief, in being able to endure even this. Arvid -- and his brother -- may have hit "rock bottom", but by the end, just when his brother reaches it, Arvid seems already a step ahead, on the way to some sort of recovery.
       Well-written but an uncomfortable story (especially since the protagonist's tragedy is also the author's own, something hard to separate from the text), In the Wake is a solid account of not just a mid-life crisis but a comprehensive life-crisis, with all that entails.

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Links:

In the Wake: Reviews: Per Petterson: Other books by Per Petterson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Per Petterson was born in 1952.

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© 2007-2012 the complete review

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