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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Through the Night

Stig Sæterbakken

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To purchase Through the Night

Title: Through the Night
Author: Stig Sæterbakken
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 259 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Through the Night - US
Through the Night - UK
Through the Night - Canada
Through the Night - India
Durch die Nacht - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Gjennom natten
  • Translated by Seán Kinsella

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Our Assessment:

B+ : quite effective exploration of grief and personal guilt

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 25/7/2019 Jan Wiele
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/9/2013 Alison McCulloch
Publishers Weekly . 15/7/2013 .
Svenska Dagbladet . 6/9/2012 Fabian Kastner

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das ist alles traurig genug -- aber noch nichts im Vergleich dazu, was noch kommen wird. Denn dieser Roman ist mehr als eine Variante moderner Beziehungsmisere, in der manche ihre eigene wiedererkennen mögen; er ist vielmehr der Horrortrip eines Menschen, der auf der ersten Seite schon bekundet, in andauernder Nacht zu leben. (...) Sæterbakkens Roman hat die Qualität, die zuletzt beschriebenen Wendungen nicht völlig aus der Luft gegriffen wirken zu lassen, sondern als tatsächlich konsequente Folge äußerlichen und psychischen Erlebens, das auf einem alles bestimmenden Knacks beruht." - Jan Wiele, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Saeterbakken entices the reader along some dark paths from which, in the end, there is no easy escape." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Readers may lose the plot's thread in a surreal sequence towards the end, but it is not wholly disorienting. Though hardly uplifting, Saeterbakken last is notable for the beauty and heartbreak of its narration." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Som flertalet av Sæterbakkens romaner är den försåtsminerad. Med finter och förskjutningar ges intryck av ett skeende som är skrämmande och obehagligt, men som i slutänden visar sig vara ett helt annat, ännu obehagligare och mer skrämmande. (...) Genom natten, känsligt översatt av Niklas Darke, är inte Stig Sæterbakkens främsta roman. Det är alltför mycket flirt och lek med skräckgenren" - Fabian Kastner, Svenska Dagbladet

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:

       Through the Night is narrated by Karl Christian Andreas Meyer, racked by guilt about his son's suicide. Karl seemed to have it all: a dentist, he was the love of his wife Eva's life, and they had two teenaged children, son Ole-Jakob and daughter Stine. Life seemed good; Eva was the love of his life, too, and as he recalls:

when Eva gave birth to the son we thought we'd been cautious enough to avoid conceiving, I doubted whether I'd ever manage to be sad again.
       But the turns of events put everything into perspective, leaving him now wondering:
     What is it about loving someone that can go so terribly wrong ?
       Despite a domestic situation that seemed fine, Karl strayed, hooking up and then moving in with Mona, a woman seventeen years his junior. It did not last, and he came sulking back home as abruptly as he left. Having already alienated Ole-Jakob with his departure, he then doesn't get much love from Eva after his return -- but she does accept him back in the fold. It does not make for a happy household environment -- and Ole-Jakob's suicide just completes the catastrophe Karl has made of his family's life.
       As Karl comes to think:
     This was what my life had so far consisted of: an endless series of mistakes.
       Karl reflects on falling in love with Eva, and on interactions with his son -- including some which he knows he handled wrong. After his son's death, the guilt is overwhelming -- and his and Eva's wallowing it doesn't change anything:
The only thing feelings of guilt arouse are feelings of guilt. "You do realize that all of this could have been avoided ?" Eva asked one night, as if she still wanted to give resurrection-via-guilt a try all the same.
       Karl has a friend, Boris, a Slovakian writer now living in Norway, and early on Karl mentions that Boris told him about a house in Slovakia: for an exorbitant fee you got the address of the house and the key to it, and were told to go there at a specified time, and:
where you, if you were to let yourself into the house at exactly that time, would be confronted with your greatest fears.
       It comes as no surprise that Karl eventually abandons his (remaining) family yet again and heads to Slovakia, and to the house. He doesn't know what might await him there, but he wants to find out -- despite being warned that he might as well:
Look at whatever's waiting for you there, whatever it might be, as your own private Holocaust.
       Karl is an interesting narrator, aware of his flaws but also largely helpless to fight them. He doesn't so much withdraw into himself as find himself unable to connect even with his closest loved ones. By the end he has deleted almost all the contacts on his phone, the only ones he leaves are Ole-Jakob (pointlessly) and Stine -- "I'm trying to get rid of as much as possible", he explains why he has no others left listed on his phone. The phone remains a communication-device, of course, even without the contact-list, and unsurprisingly he eventually even ditches that, cutting himself off entirely as he goes to confront his greatest fears.
       Sæterbakken convincingly describes Karl and Eva's great passion and then the bitter relationship that's left. Stine remains largely a cipher, as it's impossible to get much sense of her at all: Karl may love her, but he can't adequately or properly respond to his daughter's love and to her needs. Ultimately, it is easier for him to try seek answers elsewhere, rather than confront them head-on in his home-environment, with the ones he should be closest to.
       Despite the dark subject matter (compounded by the fact that Sæterbakken also committed suicide soon after publication of this book), Through the Night isn't an entirely depressing book. There's almost a sense of wonder about Karl's reflections, on his grief and the (mis)steps in his life -- even as he continues to make missteps (notably in trying to save what he thinks is a would-be suicide). Repeated possibilities of connection to others fail -- largely because Karl is incapable of maintaining the connection, beginning with his wife, but including his son and daughter (even as they react very differently to him: Ole-Jakob not even speaking directly to his father at the end, and then killing himself, while Stine tries to embrace him), Mona, even the woman Karl later 'saves' on a bridge.
       Through the Night captures survivor's-guilt well, though Karl is too entirely self-centered to see much beyond himself, with Eva and Stine largely left to their own worlds -- inaccessible to Karl (not that he seems to try very hard) -- and devices. Still, it's a well-turned meditation on self and human connections, and a fine and in part powerful read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 March 2014

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Through the Night: Reviews: Other books by Stig Sæterbakken under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Stig Sæterbakken lived 1966 to 2012.

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© 2014-2019 the complete review

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