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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Armand V.

Dag Solstad

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To purchase Armand V.

Title: Armand V.
Author: Dag Solstad
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 236 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Armand V. - US
Armand V. - UK
Armand V. - Canada
Armand V. - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Armand V.
  • Fotnoter til en uutgravd roman
  • Translated Steven T. Murray

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Our Assessment:

A- : very self-conscious, but engaging

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Evening Standard . 24/5/2018 William Leith
The Guardian . 3/6/2018 Geoff Dyer
London Rev. of Books . 9/5/2019 Adam Mars-Jones
NZZ . 16/6/2009 Thomas Fechner-Smarsly
The NY Times Book Rev. . 15/7/2018 Charles Finch
The New Yorker . 22/10/2018 James Wood
NRK Nyheter . 25/9/2006 Anne Cathrine Straume
Sunday Times . 10/6/2018 David Mills
TLS . 3/8/2018 Nathan Knapp
World Lit. Today . 5-6/2018 Lanie Tankard

  From the Reviews:
  • "Very unusual -- and, in the end, very deep." - William Leith, Evening Standard

  • "Fittingly, Solstad describes it as a series of "ongoing but distorted footnotes to an unwritten novel". That sounds experimental but it soon feels as comfortable as a pair of old suede shoes." - Geoff Dyer, The Guardian

  • "If a fiction writer constantly usurps the position of protagonist, as Solstad does in Armand V., not just in the book as a whole but in individual passages Ė ĎAs Armand searched for the house at the end of a specific cul-de-sac it occurs to me that Iíve been here beforeí Ė he or she needs to deliver in areas where a protagonist would also be expected to shine, areas such as vitality or charm. There are tiny sparks of seductiveness in the text, but theyíre rapidly stamped out. (...) Armand V. is self-consciously a late and baffled work" - Adam Mars-Jones, London Review of Books

  • "Solstad geht es, in einem Ibsenschen Sinn, um den Versuch, eine Lebenslüge aufzuarbeiten, in der sich das Private und das Politische kreuzen. (...) Ein ziemlich durchtriebenes Spiel. Dag Solstad hat ein Kunststück vollbracht -- einen Roman über das Roman-Schreiben (oder dessen Verweigerung) zu verfassen und zugleich ein ungemein politisches Buch. Was will man mehr." - Thomas Fechner-Smarsly, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Armand V. is very definitely political, as much of Solstadís early work apparently was, and itís his worst mode (...) I was initially resistant to the trick that Armand V. is written entirely in footnotes to a nonexistent novel, precisely the kind of facile experimentation still treated too reverently in criticism. But as I read on I realized that Solstadís footnotes actually are innovative, for the way they bear out his disturbing idea that adult life is merely a succession of footnotes to youth. Those footnotes arenít a cute trick, in other words. They deepen his themes." - Charles Finch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Solstadís inventive approach allows him to reflect on the freedom and obligations of the novelist who is tasked with telling someone elseís life story. It also inscribes, in the novelís very form, Solstadís way of writing about people who are not quite the protagonists of their own lives." - James Wood, The New Yorker

  • "Armand V. Fotnoter til en uutgravd roman er en bok om litteratur. En bok om det å skrive og om det å leve, en bok om det å aldri kunne beskrive en endelig helhet og om hvor vanskelig det er å leve, fullt og helt. Derfor er romanen, som ligger på et utilgjengelig nivå, usynlig for både forfatteren og leseren. Det er brokkene, mosaikken, fotnotene, som står igjen." - Anne Cathrine Straume, NRK Nyheter

  • "Death occupies the space between each of the footnotes that make up the corpus of Armand V, but what Solstad ultimately celebrates in it is the freedom of the novelist, and of the novel form, even as the soon-to-be-curtailed lives of his ageing protagonists deny freedomís very existence. It is a grand negation." - Nathan Knapp, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Solstad hints at mythology, modernizing the ancient lore of conflict. (...) All the while, Solstad chats merrily away with himself. Readers eavesdrop as the author toys with his emerging “us vs. them” tale, departing at times from the storyline to mosey around on other topics. His intellectual maneuvering is often hilarious." - Lanie Tankard, World Literature Today

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 use of footnotes in works of fiction isn't completely unheard of, and there are texts in which the foot- (or end-)notes play a major role, such as Nabokov's Pale Fire, and even the occasional novel entirely in the form of footnotes (e.g. Mark Dunn's Ibid). Dag Solstad's Armand V. consists entirely of, as the subtitle has it, 'footnotes to an unexcavated novel'. But even so, it's not quite what you would (probably) think: less explanatory notes, these have a life of their own, and the author repeatedly questions his own undertaking in them -- and admits to never having gotten fully round to the actual novel these are supposed to be notes for.
       There are ninety-nine footnotes -- sort of. In several cases, there are sub-footnotes (which are not, however, footnotes-to-the-footnotes) -- fn. 83 is followed by footnotes 83b through 83k, for example. And several go on at considerable length, with one (number seven) running some fifty (!) pages. Seen as traditional footnotes -- i.e. to offer additional information about a text -- there's little rhyme or reason to them. No, the footnotes truly are the novel.
       It is the story of Armand V. Solstad presents, a man who becomes what would seem to be a successful Norwegian diplomat -- ending as Norway's ambassador in London. Along the way there have been failed marriages and children, and the first foot- and subnotes describe an episode in which his son figures. Since Armand planned to be away abroad for a longer period he let his son stay in his apartment; returning from his trip early he glimpses the young man in what he perceives to be a humiliating position in front of a young woman. It strikes him to the core, but much later in the book it is his own condescending reaction to his son's almost flippant suggestion that, after his army service, he might remain in the military and join a group of elite fighters that leads the boy to actually go through with that plan -- a turn which ultimately leads to tragedy.
       The son's living situation is also a recurring motif, as he rents a room not too far away from Armand's own residence. While doing his military service, and later, Armand continues to go there and pay the rent, so that the young man will have a place he can stay, independent of either father or mother. But it is an illusion of independence that Armand sustains here (and elsewhere) -- and also a sort of rote absolution, a monthly rite of penance as he goes to deliver the money in person.
       Armand's life unfolds in these footnotes, but the author reveals that much is left out, or perspectives shifted: so, for example, when Armand marries N the author chooses instead to bring N's twin sister to the fore in the footnotes and practically ignore the woman who was Armand's wife (and the mother of his daughter).
       Among the digressions is Armand's continued interest in history, and an ambitious plan to rewrite it, but more often the focus is on Armand's struggles with his life and job and the compromises he must make. Armand V. is a political novel, too -- Armand's son's duty with NATO forces in the Middle East leads to that particular tragedy, and Armand is also torn between his official role as state representative and his personal beliefs -- but not obtrusively so.
       Armand V. is an attempt to convey a life, not in a straightforward narrative that describes the significant events along the way, but rather by taking the shattered pieces, lingering at length over some current scenes that seem also trivial but also hearkening back to events from decades earlier. And all the while the author also questions the creative impulse itself, and the possibility of shaping a text. (At one point, for example, he mentions that the original inspiration for this particular undertaking came when he was considering writing a work of footnotes to Joseph Brodsky or Thomas Mann's Venice-works -- but then calls that too into question.)
        At one point Solstad suggests novels already exist independently of being written, merely coming into (conventional) being -- book form -- once an author has come around and excavated it; it's a theory Solstad says he's leaning ever more strongly towards. Armand V. is an interesting twist on the notion, as he refuses -- or finds himself unable -- to 'excavate' the actual novel, and instead comes up only with this material. More like shards from an archaeological expedition, with some tiny fragments and some large, complete pieces, it gives an idea of reality but also remains far removed from it.
       In a work of truly experimental fiction, Solstad explicitly asks what the novel can still do -- and tries to prove, to the reader and himself, that there are still new possibilities and directions. Well worthwhile.

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Armand V.: Reviews: Other books by Dag Solstad under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Dag Solstad was born in 1941.

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