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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Against Art

Tomas Espedal

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To purchase Against Art

Title: Against Art
Author: Tomas Espedal
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 207 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Against Art - US
Against Art - UK
Against Art - Canada
Against Art - India
Contre l'art - France
Wider die Kunst - Deutschland
  • The Notebooks
  • Norwegian title: Imot kunsten
  • Translated by James Anderson

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressive, personal account

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftenposten . 3/12/2009 Hans H. Skei
TLS . 20/4/2012 Edward Sugden

  From the Reviews:
  • "Er det nødvendig å føye til at boken på alle måter er en bergensroman, og at byen bidrar til å feste forflytninger og oppbrudd, refleksjoner og litterære allusjoner, i en realistisk ramme. Imot kunsten er både tankevekkende, vakker og til tider medrivende -- og vel verd å lese." - Hans H. Skei, Aftenposten

  • "Against Art is not "about" anything but instead details its own process of creation. The result is a book that is never anything less than interesting, and which reads as an experimental meditation on itself." - Edward Sugden, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(I)n the same year that Knausgaard published Min Kamp, the Norwegian writer Tomas Espedal published Against Art, a complex, and clearly Rilkean, novel about the struggle to write, presented in the style of an authorís notebook or diary." - James Wood, The New Yorker (13/8/2012)

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:

       Against Art is an autobiographical novel, a text in which Espedal considers his place and his writing, and how he got to the point where he is. The work is subtitled: The Notebooks, and at one point he suggests:

     Notebooks: the dream of a book.
       The dream is fairly fully realized here: while there are notebook-like aspects to parts of it, the novel coheres fairly well, with several unfolding storylines. Nevertheless, there's a looseness to the narrative, and it breaks up at times, even into poetry or jottings. However, rather than a prospective, looking-for-answers approach Against Art both is -- in much of the content -- and feels retrospective: even as he writes 'against art', Espedal has clearly constructed his book, rather than merely reproducing notebook-entries.
       It begins with what is not a deliberate vagueness but an admission of it being impossible for him to say precisely when he is writing, suggesting repeated attempts to start in on and get on with what he is trying to do here: "I am forty-three -- forty-four -- forty-five -- forty-six years old", and:
Spring, autumn is the season I like most of all, the summer is past, I can begin working, November, September, the ninth or the nineteenth, the twenty-ninth; I start writing in the morning or in the evening.
       There is no precise chronology to the work taking shape. It is divided into sections -- 'April', 'September' -- and yet these are only loose markers. The narrative looks back as much as it deals with the more immediate. Espedal tries to balance the artificiality of art -- of 'capturing' a story or a life -- with an examination of process,
       "I must concentrate on writing", he tells himself (and us), as writing is both escape and necessity, "a necessity of life". A double-hit of loss is the specific trigger here, as Espedal finds himself living alone with one of his two daughters after the deaths of both her mother and of his, a few months apart; dealing with these, in writing and in life, proves difficult -- "There it ground to a halt, the language stopped". So he writes around them, approaching them from different angles, and from a greater distance, cautiously, slowly making his way back to them.
       Family is central to the book, from his tenuous hold on and connection to the teenage girl who is growing evermore independent to the previous generations in whose footsteps they follow. He looks back at earlier generations, especially the courtships, and the coming together and drifting apart of the couples. And in trying to capture these other lives, he also tries to capture and identify his own -- recognizing, for example, that:
     A mask, my mask, it looks like my own face, that's the subtlety of it; I take the mask off and look like myself, I put the mask on and resemble the other, the one in disguise; he clothes himself in words.
       It's an impressive, multi-layered narrative, of the power and limits of art, of finding one's place -- within a family, as well as a place to live and work -- of dealing with grief and ever-changing intimate personal connections, whether abrupt -- the death of a loved one -- or more gradual -- a daughter coming into her own. It is a complete work, yet also feels like a stage, of his life and writing-career. It is clearly part of a larger, continuing struggle; not surprisingly, Espedal's now also translated next work, a companion volume, is titled Against Nature.
       A quite fascinating, rich, and deeply personal work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 May 2014

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Against Art: Reviews: Other books by Tomas Espedal under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Tomas Espedal was born in 1961.

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© 2014-2019 the complete review

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