I just finished reading Vigdis Hjorth’s novel, Om bare. Having studied literature at the University of Bergen I’d heard all about the novel, which the literary crowd at the university and CafÈ Opera agreed was a malicious act of vengeance against Hjorth’s ex-partner, who happens to be a professor of literature in Bergen. The novel was unanimously decried as terrible, awful, embarrassingly bad, as well as morally despicable, although few would admit to having read it. Neither had I.

Last week a friend who knew nothing about the scandal lent me the book: You should read this, Jill. She was right. It’s amazing. Relentlessly honest, but not at all in the simplistic sense of gossip and scandals. Yes, it can be read as a very thinly disguised account of the author’s relationship to the professor, but its factual accuracy (or lack of such) is irrelevant because the honesty here is of an altogether different nature. It is in the emotions portrayed: merciless love that shoves aside all normality, all sense, all expectations as to how we (women? mothers? people?) are supposed to behave. The extremity of it is terrifying and recognisable. I see it in myself and in my friends (calm, married women turn thirty and explode), though we pull back before we lose ourselves, only glimpsing the destructive potential of such obsession.

The debate about this book has been symmetrically opposite to some of the recent complaints about truthfulness and blogs. The novel that is too close to reality is ridiculed and condemned. The blogger, on the other hand, is expected to adhere strictly to what actually happened.

How strange.

And I’m not surprised to see Om bare was given a rave review by Tonje Tveite, who’s since been ostracised by the Norwegian literary police (in this case represented by Brit Bild¯en and Linn Ullmann (Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman’s daughter, a literary critic and author, as the personally inclined might be interested to know, though the 18% of you in Norway already do, of course)) for writing reviews that are too “personal”. Is Scandinavia particularly terrified of the personal or is this a trait of all highly educated literary professionals? Yes, I have a “I got an MA in comparative literature” complex.

6 thoughts on “om bare

  1. Eirik

    The fact that Linn Ullman had the nerve to attack fellow critics for being “too personal” really annoys me. After all, she is the writer/critic/journalist whose novels are reviewed by close friends and colleagues in the literary establishment. Is it possible to be more personal than that?

  2. Jill

    I know.

    At a course I went to about writing book reviews in newspapers, a rule was given: Never review a book if you’ve been in the author’s kitchen. Norway’s small enough that that’s actually quite a difficult rule to stick to.

    Actually I haven’t been in that many authors’ kitchens. I’ve studied with or been to parties with a few too many for comfort though.

  3. Van Helsing

    So, to sum up: Tveite attacks SurÈn for being “too personal.” Ullmann and Bild¯en attack Tveite for being “too personal” (or actually for not presenting sound critical arguments). Eirik attacks Ullmann for being “too personal” (or actually for having friends that are “too personal”). And who gave Eirik a glowing review ? Too Personal? Full circle.

  4. Jill

    A-ho, clever, Van Helsing! Yet kind of hard to avoid given the aforementioned smallness of Norway…

  5. Norman

    Jill, it’s both sad and, in an odd sort of way, mildly comforting to see that the disintegration of analytical thought is not confined to the Anglo Saxon world. In the West’s haste to “make up” for its over-enthusiastic love affair with the Enlightement’s optimism, there’s been an equally blind drive to encourage “anything goes” approaches, especially, though certainly not exclusively, in the humanities and social sciences.
    The situation you decribe seems to be an example of what can happen when a flawed theoretical approach that has seemed to work well enough, is confronted suddenly by the intrusion of a new dimension which forces people to make a choice. You’re possibly more of a “neutral observer” in the process than some of your friends, and are thus more easily able to look at the book on its merits.
    This, of course, is now judged to be an “old fashioned” approach. I’m inclined to suspect, however, that modern “critics” have simply thrown out the baby, and kept the bathwater.

  6. mamamusings

    honesty of a different nature
    I’ve found myself drawn inexorably into the discussion on and around Jonathon Delacour’s blog on the topic of weblogs and

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