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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Discoverer

Jan Kjærstad

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

To purchase The Discoverer

Title: The Discoverer
Author: Jan Kjærstad
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 538 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Discoverer - US
The Discoverer - UK
The Discoverer - Canada
. Der Entdecker - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Oppdageren
  • Translated by Barbara J. Haveland
  • Volume III of the Wergeland-trilogy

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Our Assessment:

A : excellent final piece of the trilogy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftenposten . 31/1/2001 Terje Stemland
FAZ . 28/2/2005 Oliver Jungen
The Independent . 12/6/2009 Paul Binding
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 18/2/2006 Anna Katharina Dömling
The NY Times Book Rev. D 25/10/2009 Tom Shone
TLS . 24/4/2009 Tim Souster

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der dritte Band bringt These und Antithese nun nicht oder allenfalls synoptisch zusammen: Perspektiven sind nicht falsifizierbar. Als noch einmal viel komplexer erweist sich freilich, was zum Tod Margretes führte (.....) Die stilistischen Einwände können nicht verdecken, daß es sich bei dem Entdecker um einen intellektuellen Roman von Format handelt, bedeutend nicht nur für die norwegische Literatur." - Oliver Jungen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The voyage that The Discoverer will impel, thanks to Barbara J Haveland's lively, fluid and at times sparkling translation, is a return one, to the beginning of the whole trilogy -- a work so ample in its riches that further discoveries are inevitable." - The Independent, Paul Binding

  • "The conclusion of the trilogy is bent, boringly, on exoneration. (...) Kjaerstad is, you realize, just the teensiest bit hung up about greatness. The trilogy has been praised as an attempt to do for Norway what Joyce did for Ireland in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man -- to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race. It’s more like 1,500 pages of air guitar in a neo-Nietzschean vein, less a great novel than an overextended riff on greatness’s trimmings and one itinerant soul’s hunger for them. Which is another way of saying that Kjaerstad writes well about adolescence" - Tom Shone, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Jonas is a Just William who becomes interested in culture and science and sex, and whose tendency to exaggerate is part of the fun. At other times, however, the incidents are too obviously symbolic (.....) Jonas Wergeland remains an elusive figure and that is perhaps exactly as his creator would have wished." - Tim Souster, 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:

       The first volume of the Wergeland-trilogy, The Seducer, was presented as a more or less straightforward biography of TV-genius Jonas Wergeland, written by (as was eventually revealed) Kamala Varma, while the second, Erobreren, was a variation on the theme, written by a professor but based largely, as it turns out, on the stories recounted by Wergeland's sister, Rakel Hansen. The first shifts back and forth between the past and a very brief sliver of the present, when Wergeland discovers his wife, Margrete Boeck, dead after returning from a trip abroad. The second revisits the past, with a different emphasis, and recounts the time after the discovery of the body, including Wergeland's trial for the murder of his wife, and his confessing to the crime.
       The present of Oppdageren finds Wergeland having completed his prison sentence, a free man again, travelling on the Voyager, the boat that once belonged to Gabriel Sand (and re-named from its original Norge -- not that that's entirely sufficient to erase all the traces of what happened there ...). He is happy with his role as secretary to Kamala Varma. Also on board: sister Rakel, as well as Wergeland's daughter, Kristin and the rest of the multimedia OAK Quartet that she is part of.
       After Varma's and Rakel's, a third voice now dominates, recounting Wergeland's life from yet another perspective (no big surprise who that turns out to be). But this volume is different, as Wergeland's voice is also woven in, the first person finally also the central figure: he doesn't get to tell much of his own story, but a bit.
       Oppdageren is not nearly as choppy as the first two volumes: rather than very short chapters devoted to the episodes of his life, this biography is divided into much longer chapters, and though the same layering of episodes -- descriptions of events and memories within descriptions of events, etc. -- is used, there's a much more textured approach here, and the layers are more carefully interwoven. The three volumes of the trilogy are both a continuum and variations on the life, each with a different feel to it: the almost uncritical enthusiasm of the first volume, the much darker second, and finally what can perhaps best be described as a satisfied third take on this life. Oppdageren does not offer all the answers -- Wergeland's future (and, to some extent, his past) are still uncertain -- but there is a sense of resolution.
       Where the first two volumes focussed on Wergeland's rise to the top, and the great success of his TV series, Thinking Big, Oppdageren is more a coming to terms with his past and, especially, his failures: it is a journey of self-discovery. The death of his wife is finally explained, the reasons and circumstances given (and, while not actually surprising, they are not at all what one had been led to expect in either the first or second volumes of the trilogy). Jail was, in a way, necessary for Wergeland, allowing him to deal with the guilt he felt.
       The whole trilogy is an attempt at defining and describing a life. Only in this volume is Wergeland's first ambition described, to become a life-saver. Accomplishing that feat, actually saving a life, at the age of eleven he is already then faced with the issue of: what now ? Life is about accomplishment, and he strives for other things later, but it's an early lesson that even the greatest, most noble deeds are only a piece of life.
       Among the central stories in Oppdageren are childhood friendships and ambitions, the true nature of his relationship with Margrete (which is artfully shifted from volume to volume in the trilogy), and his friend Viktor, who loses twenty years of his life but whom Wergeland eventually manages to make whole again (and helps turn into a Jeopardy-champion on top of it). As was already evident in the preceding volumes, Kjærstad's central theme is that of connexions: the narrative -- like life -- proceeds linearly, but the substance does not: past and present intermingle constantly -- and constantly throw up something new. Wergeland's daughter sees it most obviously when she plays all the episodes of her father's TV programme at the same time, seeing finally the big picture that Thinking Big is. The trilogy is a portrait of Wergeland, and also of Norway: scenes that fit together to form a larger whole (and yet one which doesn't come close to encompassing the entire man, or life, or country).
       Oppdageren is the most successful of the three versions of Wergeland's life, effective both in how it is built up on what has preceded it, but also on its own, particularly in its more confident and less desperate tone, more accepting of the notion that not everything can be fully and truly understood, no matter how many connexions are uncovered and made. The episodes generally aren't as wildly imagined (or, in some cases, as strained) as in The Seducer, but they both entertain and prove more effective in conveying the larger picture Kjærstad is after
       Wergeland's relationship with Margrete is particularly well done, but among the few aspects of the novel(s) that doesn't come off quite right is his relationship with his daughter, Kristin. She was a hardly a presence at all in the first two volumes, but here she unavoidably figures much more largely. Wergeland briefly mentions that he's sorry to have missed her formative teenage years, during which time he was incarcerated, but doesn't offer enough to explain how she became the person she is -- a multimedia star from the first, winning a best-website award in her teens, hosting a TV talkshow (on which she, not her guests, was always the central attraction). Too many of the characters are extraordinary -- bestselling author Kamala Varma, Jeopardy-champion Viktor, etc. -- but in her case, especially, what made her the person she became (and specifically what her father's role might have been in that process) is not gone into anywhere close enough.
       There are minor quibbles -- some things that are stated too obviously, some not quite taken far enough -- but overall this is an excellent work, the impressive final piece of a very entertaining trilogy. Highly recommended.

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The Discoverer: Reviews: Jan Kjærstad: Other books by Jan Kjaerstad under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Jan Kjærstad was born in 1953.

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© 2005-2019 the complete review

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