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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Tomas Espedal

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To purchase Bergeners

Title: Bergeners
Author: Tomas Espedal
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 169 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Bergeners - US
Bergeners - UK
Bergeners - Canada
Gens de Bergen - France
Bergeners - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Bergeners
  • Translated by James Anderson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing, thoughtful personal mix

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftonbladet . 20/10/2014 Barbro Westling
FAZ . 26/2/2019 Jan Wiele
Politiken . 6/11/2013 Bjørn Bredal

  From the Reviews:
  • "Bergensare en osedvanligt vacker och allvarlig utsaga om kärlek. Tomas Espedal är helt enkelt en storartat vital författare och jag önskar honom ­läsare och ­Nordiska rådets litteraturpris flera gånger om." - Barbro Westling, Aftonbladet

  • "Espedals hochfliegend-gedankenspielerisches Erzählen wird immer wieder geerdet durch autobiographische Momente und Klarnamen-Bezüge auf real existierende Personen (.....) Bei aller Bekenntnishaftigkeit gibt es aber keinen Zweifel, dass dieses Buch ganz im Spielerischen lebt, so etwa im kurzfristigen Drang zum Essay (...) oder zur literarischen Hommage (...). Am stärksten ist Espedal in der synästhetischen Verdichtung, die seinen Erzähler beim Betrachten Goyas in „eine Höllenzone aus Schuldgefühlen und Angst“ stürzt." - Jan Wiele, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Men Bergeners er ingen munter bog. Den er humoristisk med den hvide klovns tragiske smil, der gemmer på fortvivlelse. (...) Espedal formår fuldstændig ubesværet og uprætentiøst at være meget norsk og meget international på én gang, også det gør ham så indtagende" - Bjørn Bredal, Politiken

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:

       Midway through this book, Tomas Espedal reports how, when his first book was published by Glydendal, he was summoned to (what he considers) Norway's "second most important city" -- Oslo -- and to the office of publishing house grandee Brikt Jensen who, though also Bergen-born, had some advice for him:

I hear you're from Bergen and that you live in Bergen, he said in a thick Bergen accent. Well, I've got something important to tell you, so listen carefully: Move away from Bergen. If not, you'll become a Bergener, he said.
       Espedal is unimpressed -- "I couldn't help thinking that moving away and spending more than half his life in Oslo hadn't done an awful lot for him" -- and obviously unconvinced, remaining true to his hometown. The title of this volume suggests perhaps a paean to that city; the comparison to Joyce's Dubliners suggests itself (and is reinforced by all the publishers' publicity copy ...) -- yet even as Bergen remains the anchoring pole for Espedal and his book, he -- and it -- travel far and wide. Often as not, it is a book elsewhere. Indeed, typically:
     I took the train from Bergen to Oslo, then on to Copenhagen and straight down through Germany into Italy.
       It is a work full of being in other places -- in part, certainly, as a reminder of what the point he always returns to, Bergen, means. Much of the travel is past -- sometimes long past, as when he lived in Nicaragua -- and he has now reached the stage where he finds: "I still travel, but not very far. I travel mainly back and forth between Bergen and Oslo. to visit my daughter". Yet it's a restless book: he also suggests: "I'd really like to live in Spain", or: "I'd really like to write a book about Tirana. About the women and the jazz clubs there". Indeed, Bergeners essentially begins in New York, at The Standard High Line hotel ("Room 1103. The loveliest room I'd ever seen") and closes at the Askanischer Hof in Berlin (a Kurfürstendamm revival of the long-shuttered Askanischer Hof (Kafka stayed there ...) that itself closed in 2015).
       Bergeners is not a straightforward novel, personal journal, or indeed anything easily definable. Much of it is very much in the tradition of the new school of Norwegian personal writing, closely autobiographical writing presented nominally as fiction -- think Knausgaard, Kjersti Skomsvold's Monsterhuman, or indeed Espedal's other works. There's even overlap: early on he explains a recent Madrid-trip was to:
get away from the hubbub surrounding the publication of Knausgaard's books in Norway. He had mentioned my name in connection with an unpleasant episode in my flat, and my phone rang constantly [.....] I didn't know what to say to any of them, so I said I was on my travels. This was both true and untrue -- I was hiding in Madrid.
       (See also volume five of My Struggle, for those playing connect-the-dots at home.)
       Bergeners is very much an end-of-an-affair book, too, making for some of the melancholy feel, as well as its searchingness, a hold having been lost. In part, the book is a voyage to being able to process the loss, culminating in a concluding series of variation-pieces that finally allow him to come to terms with it.
       Appropriately, form too is inconstant here, Espedal presenting his material first in fairly straightforward narrative fashion, but drifting across times, then presenting some of the episodes as titled stories, of sorts (dedicated to specific people, too), and then looser grouping of paragraphs, thoughts, sentences; parts even resemble poetry in their arrangement.
       For a book that seems dedicated to (a) place, Espedal repeatedly shows how difficult it is for him to be settled: among the amusing stories is a reminiscence of his finally getting a 'room of his own', taking over his sister's comfortable flat, domesticating it, acquiring all the fittings to make it a true home -- yet:
During the two years I lived in that flat in Dreggen, I never managed to write a single novel, not so much as a short story.
       For all his movement, Espedal's world is also marked by the static: so much seems interchangeable, with little sense of progression. Unsurprisingly, he admits he finds: "In some respects a life undergoes no development [...] we remain the same obstinate child". Part of the power of his writing comes from that -- that continuing sameness, the realization that whatever we accumulate -- wisdom, experience -- it makes for just a minor change in our fundamentals.
       Espedal recounts an August 2011 conversation with fellow writer Henning H. Bergsvåg, where he argued that: "We must preserve reality by imitating it". He offers what amounts to his writing credo:
We must describe the city we live in, the times we live in, our friends, our discussions, our politics, our loneliness. We mustn't lose ourselves in a made-up, hypothetical universe, a false literature; what we write must be true, and we must describe what's real with all we possess of earnestness and strength, I said.
       The specificity -- of date (and names) -- is a reminder that the conversation takes place shortly after the horrific Utøya-island massacre by Anders Breivik (see, e.g. Åsne Seierstad's One of Us), which also hangs over much of the book, even as Espedal only circumspectly addresses it. The contrast -- reality, and his idea of how to best present it -- is perfectly presented her. The date of the massacre -- 22 July -- is mentioned, but even in describing the panicked reaction from his daughter, calling because of the explosion that blew out the window in the store where she worked, Espedal does not extend his story to the entire horror; it is implicit -- so entirely familiar in all its terrible detail, certainly for Norwegian readers, that little more need be said -- rather than explicit. Espedal allows for aftereffects -- the question: "Was it because of what happened in Oslo, that you ceased travelling ?" -- but little more. (In this sense, at least parts of the book are the true antithesis of Seierstad's painstakingly detailed documentary work.)
       Bergeners is another of Espedal's exercises in 'preserving reality by imitating it'. There's a sense of him trying to feel and find his way, to figure out just how to do it -- but, once again, he succeeds. Perhaps in part fumblingly so, but that's also part of both process and final picture, just as he means it to be.
       Bergeners is unusual (non)fiction, but often fascinating and certainly well-done; it's also a very moving personal work, with the feel and appearance of still waters, running oh so deep.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 November 2017

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Bergeners: 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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© 2017-2019 the complete review

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