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.
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.