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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

På vei til en venn

Niels Fredrik Dahl

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Title: På vei til en venn
Author: Niels Fredrik Dahl
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002
Length: 224 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Le regard d'un ami - France
Auf dem Weg zu einem Freund - Deutschland
  • På vei til en venn has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : gloomy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 19/11/2004 Sabine Brand
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 12/2/2005 Uwe Stolzmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Eine sonderbare Geschichte, die uns zwiespältig zurückläßt. Zum einen hält sie uns in immerwährender Erwartung, die uns bis zur letzten Seite nicht so recht erfüllt scheinen will. Zum anderen bestrickt uns, je länger, desto mehr, die feine Zeichnung der Persönlichkeiten, in deren Innerstes wir geführt werden. Der Autor Dahl tastet sich mit zarten Fingerspitzen durch Wahrheiten, die wir schwer in Besitz nehmen, denen wir uns aber tr7auml;umend hingeben können." - Sabine Brand, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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:

       På vei til en venn focusses on a fateful day some thirty years ago when young Vilgot was, as the title has it, on the way to see his friend. It becomes the defining event of his life, a series of coincidences and choices that lead to what is ultimately revealed to be a personal catastrophe on that day when he never actually made it to his friend's house.
       The story is presented in very roundabout fashion, beginning (and repeatedly returning) to the present, and then always circling back to the past, but only allowing that to slowly unfold. Parts are told in the first person, but much Vilgot doesn't seem able to face head-on, and is presented in the third person.
       It's clear that Vilgot's life hasn't gone ideally. He's apparently taken over the role of the local 'count', who was a mysterious and somewhat feared local landowner when Vilgot was a boy. He's now totally overwhelmed, having been entrusted with the care of an elephant, Batir, left behind by a touring Russian circus that couldn't afford to take the animal back home, and it's keeping the animal in captivity that seems to precipitate his confrontation with that day from his youth. Vilgot can barely feed the enormous animal, and they're a pretty sad pair.
       Vilgot's youth wasn't that easy either, with a demanding and sickly mother that kept him and his father on edge. It's an isolated and unfriendly world, symbolized most obviously by former UN Secretary General (and local legend) Trygve Lie's inaccessible penthouse apartment. Vilgot has few role models or friends; rejection of the sort he receives from a teacher who is also an artist is fairly typical. Among the few who do take an interest in the boy is the local Count von Hoff -- but even he isn't there for the boy on the fateful day.
       Only at the very end is it revealed what actually happened to Vilgot back in the sixties, when he set off to see his friend, but neither the what nor the who come as a surprise: Dahl has made the burden Vilgot carries with him clear enough along the way. It's a sad story, an account of the tragedy life can easily become, and the relentless gloominess can be tough to take. The circular approach to the tale, very slowly closing in on the essential, comes dangerously close to becoming irritating; it does not help the tale unfold as much as the technique (if applied) should.
       På vei til en venn is fairly moving, and some of the personal portraits -- the father, the elephant, and Vilgot -- are very well done, built up on small detail but ultimately very revealing. The pervasive gloominess and emotional isolation, however, makes it a lot to take; even what uplift there is is burdened by deep sadness.
       Quite well written, but not terribly appealing.

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På vei til en venn: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Niels Fredrik Dahl was born in 1957. He is married to Linn Ullmann.

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