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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Bragi Ólafsson

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To purchase Narrator

Title: Narrator
Author: Bragi Ólafsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 151 pages
Original in: Icelandic
Availability: Narrator - US
Narrator - UK
Narrator - Canada
  • Icelandic title: Sögumaður
  • Translated by Lytton Smith

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing day-in-the-life variation that doesn't quite exploit all its potential

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 10/8/2018 Tyler Malone

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book is also a descendant of the nouveau roman, taking formal cues from and shaping its particular version of narrative play in the mold of the enigmatic novels of writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute. (...) The prose is relatively sleek and straight-forward, even as it erratically hops between first and third person, bubbling over from time to time with a dark and dangerous idiosyncratic beauty." - Tyler Malone, The Los Angeles Times

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:

       Narrator is essentially a day-in-the-life novel -- though certainly not an everyday-day in this protagonist's life. The protagonist gets sidetracked, and instead of going his own way gets caught up in another's. He doesn't exactly follow in that man's footsteps but he more or less stalks him, all day long. (With the 2014 World Cup going on in the background we can even date the novel exactly, to 24 June 2014.)
       The protagonist is G., and while he is waiting at the post office he recognizes someone ahead of him -- Aron Cesar, son of a Brazilian man and an Icelandic politician, and a man who used to go out with Sara, on whom G. had a crush. G. has a large envelope he wants to mail -- a manuscript, it turns out; a one hundred and fifty-one-page manuscript (the exact length of Narrator ...) -- but when he sees Aron he decides, on the spur of the moment, to follow him, and that's what he spends most of the rest of the day doing.
       Narrator actually begins well into the day, with a sort of prologue-chapter, before jumping back to earlier, to the scene -- 'Five or Six Hours Earlier' -- in the post office, after which the novel follows G. and Aron in step. The novel opens inside yet another story: it takes a few moments to come into focus, but it's quickly clear that what is being recounted here is a description of the 1973 movie La Grande Bouffe, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli, and Philippe Noiret as four friends spending a weekend together, "with a view of eating themselves to death". It is here that: "a man who will shortly take over as narrator" is introduced: G., at a crossroads -- because Aron got fed up with the movie that they are both watching, and G. has to decide whether or not to follow him (continue following him, as we soon learn) or finish watching the movie; he opts to continue shadowing Aron.
       G. is identified as "the narrator", but only bits of the account are in the first person; while the entire novel is focused on G. (even as he mostly focuses on Aron ...), most of it is in the more neutral-seeming (though surely hardly more objective) third-person.
       G. seems not so much fascinated by Aron as annoyed by him -- as he was more than a decade ago, when he couldn't understand what Sara saw in him. Then as now, Aron seems to be a ne'er-do-well; from what G. observes and overhears, everything suggests he's a drug dealer. Seeing Aron -- who doesn't recognize G. (with G. so unassuming and unmemorable that even after hours Aron doesn't pick up on the fact that someone is closely following him) -- stirs up old memories in G.
       G. hasn't made much of his life. He's thirty-five, living in his parents' home, without much of a social life; he only once, briefly, had something like a real job, but now seems to idle away his time -- though, of course, there is that envelope he's carrying around, a manuscript that he has completed ..... The memory of Sara, and Aron, remains a significant one, however -- not only because he still seems hurt by his failed romance with Sara (she turned him down flat), but because it also led to a rash and shameful act that he seems to still feel guilty about (but which has also afforded him his not entirely uncomfortable lifestyle).
       Narrator is a story of obsession -- not even so much G.'s with Aron, a man whom he has a visceral dislike for and who irritates him (and whose success irritates him), but rather with his own life and fate. G. doesn't exactly wonder where it all went wrong, but he is puzzled by how his life has turned out; Aron -- who seems similarly not tied down to a regular job, able to spend a leisurely day wandering about, going into shops and bars, going to see a daytime showing of a movie -- seems in some ways not that much unlike him, and while this experience, of seeing what Aron does and how he lives, rubs G. the wrong way, he also can't seem to let go -- perhaps as much of the associations that it brings back as any sort of interest in the man: G. can't really pin down any purpose in following him (and he's kind of disappointed he didn't get to see how the movie turned out ...). Of course, the choice to follow Aron also meant not taking another, different -- perhaps liberating ? -- step -- mailing his manuscript to the publisher. Aron serves as a convenient excuse for avoidance and delay, for actually, possibly changing his life .....
       It's an interesting variation on the stalker-story, with some decent additional layers to it, from the background characters that repeatedly pop up (not least G.'s very old mother, calling up her son) to G.'s incidental errands -- and, of course, the echoes of the past.
       G. interacts with Aron -- to see if Aron recognizes him, for example -- including calling him anonymously; he doesn't see himself in Aron, but this engagement with this man from his past is shining a light on his own identity: so also when he wants to call him yet again G. wonders: "But who am I now, who will I be, when I call Aron ?" Of course, Narrator is about (G.) figuring out who G. is: in merely calling him 'G.' it's like he is unfinished and incomplete -- not a whole man --, his very identity vague and unspecific, while those constant shifts back and forth between first- and third-person suggest his own struggle with who he wants to be, veering between taking control of his own story or merely being part of it.
       The manuscript is, of course, a sort of key -- G. perhaps finding purpose in finding art -- and, of course, the manuscript loops back into the story, because it evidently is exactly this story. At one point G. wonders: "Will today contribute anything significant ?" Tailing Aron -- who really isn't doing much of anything -- seems fairly pointless; reworking that as a literary work is maybe less so .....
       Bragi entertainingly leads readers along G. and Aron's trail, but Narrator still seems more unexplored potential than fully worked out. There's something to be said for not making it too neatly recursive, with the manuscript as the novel, and it's not like Narrator is a long ramble to nowhere, but it feels like aspects of it should have been more fully developed.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 September 2018

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Narrator: Reviews: Bragi Ólafsson: Other books by Bragi Ólafsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Icelandic author Bragi Ólafsson was born in 1962. He played bass for The Sugarcubes.

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© 2018-2019 the complete review

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