Booker International Longlist 2020: The Other Name Septology by Jon Fosse
Book number 10 tackled by Bookworm, Tracy and Emily.
Details from the Booker website: A major new work by Jon Fosse, one of Europe’s most celebrated writers, follows the lives of two men living close to each other on the west coast of Norway. The year is coming to a close and Asle, an ageing painter and widower, is reminiscing about his life. He lives alone, his only friends being his neighbour, Åsleik, a bachelor and traditional Norwegian fisherman-farmer, and Beyer, a gallerist who lives in Bjørgvin, a couple hours’ drive south of Dylgja, where he lives. There, in Bjørgvin, is another Asle, also a painter. He and the narrator are doppelgangers – two versions of the same person, two versions of the same life. Written in hypnotic prose that shifts between the first and third person, The Other Name calls into question concrete notions around subjectivity and the self. What makes us who we are? And why do we lead one life and not another? With The Other Name, the first volume in a trilogy of novels, Fosse presents us with an indelible and poignant exploration of the human condition that will endure as his masterpiece.
Jon Fosse was born in 1959 on the west coast of Norway and is the recipient of countless prestigious prizes, both in his native Norway and abroad. Since his 1983 fiction debut, Raudt, svart [Red, Black], Fosse has written prose, poetry, essays, short stories, children’s books, and over forty plays, with more than a thousand productions performed and translations into fifty languages. The Other Name is the first volume in Septology, his latest prose work, will be published in three volumes by Fitzcarraldo Editions.
Damion Searls is a translator from German, Norwegian, French, and Dutch and a writer in English. He has translated four books and a libretto by Jon Fosse – Melancholy (co-translated with Grethe Kvernes), Aliss at the Fire, Morning and Evening (novel and libretto), and Scenes from a Childhood – and books by many other classic modern writers.
Emily’s Thoughts: This was definitely ‘worthy’ but the fact that it took me so many days to get through a relatively short book says a lot to me about how much I rate this book. It’s entirely possible I didn’t ‘get’ it, in fact I’m sure I didn’t ‘get’ it, but then I’m not sure a book that requires that much in the way of degrees and effort and study to understand it is all that worth reading. Some of the individual passages were lovely to read but I was never completely sure what it was all in aid of or what it was building up to. If this one made the shortlist or won, people would be justified in saying the booker rewards dense, obscure, wordy books with no plot and I don’t want that to be something people can say about a prize that already feels inaccessible to so many people.
Writing quality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 1/4
Tracy’s Thoughts: Asle is an elderly painter who has lost his wife, Ales. He has a neighbor and best friend, Asleik. There is another Asle in this story, who lives in the city, and they are doppelgangers. They are two versions of the same person, and from there, this story gets existential.
As can be seen, the characters could be hard to separate. I’m sure this was intentional, but since there was a challenge in the format of this book (very little punctuation, run on paragraphs, saying the same thing five times over as many pages), this became a difficult read.
The writing itself was beautiful. I could get lost in descriptions of Norway and the sunset. The characters were interesting, as long as I could figure out who was talking, and to whom.
Overall, I think this was an interesting book, and I believe it has a good shot at the shortlist.
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Book Worm’s Thoughts: At the start of the book I was really immersed in the writing and then the further in I got the less connected I felt to the story and that was due to the way the story is told. The whole thing (at least my version) was one long paragraph with no full stops and a narrative perspective that would switch half way through what appeared to be a natural paragraph. The cross over in the life stories of the two Asles also began to get confusing, what was the author trying to say? is there a point at which these two men were one? Are there actually two Asles or is the second the invention of the first?
Confusion and punctuation aside this is a beautifully written book. I loved the descriptions of Norway and of the paintings that Asles was creating. I really want to see the St Andrew’s Cross to see if I can find the light shining in the darkness. I also appreciated the descriptions of the characters how with few words and sparse language the author really brings to life the struggle to survive in a remote village as well as the type of people who make the decision to do so and how they often without wanting to or realising they are they come to rely on each other.
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
The Eighth Life 18.5
Memory Police 15.5
Faces on the Tip of my Tongue 14.17
Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree 14
Mac and his Problem 12.5
The Other Name Septology 11.33
The Discomfort of Evening 11
Hurricane Season 9.75
Have your read this one? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments