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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Novel 11, Book 18

by
Dag Solstad


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

To purchase Novel 11, Book 18



Title: Novel 11, Book 18
Author: Dag Solstad
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 218 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Novel 11, Book 18 - US
Novel 11, Book 18 - UK
Novel 11, Book 18 - Canada
Novel 11, Book 18 - India
Elfter Roman, achtzehntes Buch - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Ellevte roman, bok atten
  • Translated by Sverre Lyngstad

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Our Assessment:

B+ : odd turns, yet compelling

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 17/11/2008 Melissa McClements
FAZ . 30/12/2004 Klaus Unger
The Independent . 12/12/2008 Paul Binding
New Humanist A 11-12/2008 Philip Womack
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 5/10/2004 Aldo Keel
Sunday Times . 18/1/2009 David Mills
The Telegraph . 19/12/2008 Alan Marshall
The Times . 21/11/2008 Kate Saunders
TLS . 5/11/2008 Ben Jeffery


  From the Reviews:
  • "Novel 11, Book 18 is an uncompromising and controversial book. Preoccupied by his usual existentialist themes, Solstad takes the idea of man controlling his own destiny to a bizarre extreme. (...) It might be a profound exploration of philosophical ideas but as a novel itís an emotionless and unsettling read." - Melissa McClements, Financial Times

  • "Handlung ist nichts; jede Handlung kann grandios oder gruselig umgesetzt werden. In diesem Fall befindet sich der Erzähler fester im Würgegriff der Misanthropie, als seiner Erzählung guttun würde, in ihm spiegelt sich der Autor, der in Interviews um keine kulturpessimistische Platitüde verlegen ist" - Klaus Unger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The delineation of Peter's impact on Bjørn's life is brilliant and subtle." - Paul Binding, The Independent

  • "The novelís downward arc is forceful, gelid, unstoppable; sentences pile on top of each other, flowing and foaming with a seemingly random yet fatally purposeful aim. In this Solstad mirrors successfully both the strange patterns of life itself and the human thought process: how we attempt to impose our own sorts of order upon things." - Philip Womack, New Humanist

  • "(O)ne approaches a book called Novel 11, Book 18 from such an eminent novelist with trepidation. However, it turns out that while he might be rubbish with titles, Solstad is a terrific writer." - David Mills, Sunday Times

  • "Solstad has a dry and bleakly comic style (.....) Itís a strange failure of imagination, posing as an act of imagination." - Alan Marshall, The Telegraph

  • "Bleak, funny, brilliantly observed." - Kate Saunders, The Times

  • "Dag Solstad, one of Norway's most eminent novelists, gives his story a simple, understated presentation, to match the small-town surroundings of its largely bourgeois characters. (...) Novel 11, Book 18 is not warm. Unfulfilled expectations and the vertigo of lost time occupy much of its attention, and readers' enjoyment will depend largely on their tolerance for this type of material. But Solstad masks his intentions well. The writing leaves the impression of sleight of hand, seemingly clear but concealing a trick, an impression sustained in Sverre Lyngstad's laconic English translation. The strength of the novel, strangely, is that it raises the suspicion that it has no depth at the same time as suggesting that it ought to be profound: a faint copy of the problem which besets its main character." - Ben Jeffery, 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:

       Novel 11, Book 18 seems straightforward enough, yet it moves in odd turns, leaving the reader off-balance, uncertain what Solstad is trying to do. It begins: "When this story begins, Bjørn Hansen has just turned fifty" -- and the title already emphasises that it is a story or an episode that will be related here. But Solstad approaches it all in a rather roundabout way.
       Fifty-year-old Bjørn Hansen -- and he remains Bjørn Hansen almost throughout, only rarely referred to simply as Bjørn -- came from poor circumstances, studied political economy, and began a promising career in a government ministry. He married and had a son, and then threw that all away to follow a woman named Turid Lammers to Kongsberg. He applied for the position of town treasurer, for which he was ridiculously overqualified, and over the years became a local fixture. Among other things, he joined the local theatrical society, which was one of Turid's hobbyhorses, and slowly rose through the ranks there.
       Bjørn Hansen is a cultured man, with a deep interest in literature and art. Solstad saddles him with that on the first page already:

That was his luggage. Dostoevsky. Pushkin. Thomas Mann. Céline. Borges. Tom Kristensen. Márquez. Proust. Singer. Heinrich Heine. Malraux, Kafka, Kundera, Freud, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Butor.
       He had been practical when deciding what to study -- "Art and literature were not proper subjects to him, they were interests one could cultivate in one's spare time, not means whereby to acquire a position" -- but obviously he has been deeply engaged with art over the years. Still, there's a sense of failure to his artistic engagement: it hasn't delivered on all its promise. And when he convinces the theatrical company -- which usually puts on musicals or farces -- to have a go at Ibsen's The Wild Duck, it proves to be beyond them -- and him, which also frustrates him.
       In a sense, Bjørn Hansen finds himself in the midst of a midlife crisis, troubled by the seeming inevitability of his fate:
But if I hadn't been here, I would have been somewhere else and have led the same kind of life. However, I cannot reconcile myself to that. I get really upset when I think about it.
       He comes up with a plan to, in a sense, thwart fate:
a plan whereby Bjørn Hansen would actualise his No, his great Negation, as he had begun to call it, through an action that would be irrevocable.
       The plan is not immediately revealed; instead Bjørn Hansen's now twenty-year-old son, Peter reenters his life. Peter is set to begin his studies in Kongsberg, and asks whether he can room with his father, at least until he can find a place.
       Where Solstad began the story focussing on Bjørn Hansen's relationship with the woman he changed his life for -- a relationship that has been over for several years now -- it now shifts to one describing his adjustment to living with his son. Bjørn Hansen means and does well, but finds it hard to identify with his son, who also keeps him at a considerable distance. The son is not unfriendly or inconsiderate, but he is a fairly unpleasant young man, with no friends (and abandoned by the one person he thought was a friend), and so here too is a relationship that Bjørn Hansen finds largely befuddling.
       At one point:
He did not like the story Peter told, he did not like the way it was told, and he did not like what it told him about his own son and about his future prospect.
       Yes, tellingly he sees it as a 'story' -- and, eventually, after the son has moved out and drifted out of his life again, Bjørn Hansen decides to go through with his plan, essentially rewriting his own story.
       It's a fairly bizarre thing he winds up doing; curiously, it turns out not to be irrevocable -- not entirely so anyway (turning back would merely mean a betrayal of a great many people -- but then so is going forward, the only difference being that those being betrayed remain unaware of it). It is an act of complete artifice -- very elaborate play-acting. Fascinated by the idea of homo ludens, Bjørn Hansen steps into this role he has created for himself.
       The novel's odd title emphasises the disconnect from reality, that even though this is a novel that describes the everyday, with limited philosophical or artistic-creative musings, it is a written creation, a game played by an author -- describing the life of a man who has the same creative instincts but can not channel them onto the page but rather must act or live them out. Bjørn Hansen's spontaneous acts -- giving up one life in order to lead another with Turid Lammers -- are more conventional attempts to shake up a life, but he needs more.
       Novel 11, Book 18 progresses oddly, shifting from one area of Bjørn Hansen's life to another. It does not feel incomplete, but there is an arbitrariness to much of it -- which also makes certain parts (the list of authors, Bjørn Hansen's The Wild Duck ambitions) feel all the more forced. But ultimately this is a novel that wants to be perceived as such -- despite its realism, it is a thought experiment, it is artifice, it is art.
       Strange, but successful in its own strange way.

       Note: the cover of the Harvill Secker edition gives a clue as to what Bjørn Hansen is up to; word-fixated folk that we are we're somewhat embarrassed to admit that we did not notice the cover-illustration until after we finished the book (yeah, we definitely don't choose our books by the look of the cover ...) -- but have to say that we are pleased we were unaware of it, as it probably gives away too much.

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Links:

Novel 11, Book 18: Reviews: Other books by Dag Solstad under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Dag Solstad was born in 1941.

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© 2009-2011 the complete review

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