Aliss at the Fireby Jon Fosse
In her old house by the fjord, Signe lies on a bench and sees a vision of herself as she was more than twenty years earlier: standing by the window waiting for her husband Asle, on that terrible late November day when he took his rowboat out onto the water and never returned. Her memories widen out to include their whole life together, and beyond: the bonds
In her old house by the fjord, Signe lies on a bench and sees a vision of herself as she was more than twenty years earlier: standing by the window waiting for her husband Asle, on that terrible late November day when he took his rowboat out onto the water and never returned. Her memories widen out to include their whole life together, and beyond: the bonds of family and the battles with implacable nature stretching back over five generations, to Asle's great-great-grandmother Aliss. In Jon Fosse's vivid, hallucinatory prose, all these moments in time inhabit the same space, and the ghosts of the past collide with those who still live on. "Aliss at the Fire" is a visionary masterpiece, a haunting exploration of love and loss that ranks among the greatest meditations on marriage and human fate.
Slim, mournful tale of loss and memory in a coastal Norwegian town, first published in Norway in 2003.
The novel opens with a series of shifts in perspective, time and identity that hint at the experimentation that follows. We immediately meet Signe, an aging woman living alone near a fjord. The story is set in 2002, but Signe is soon thinking back to 1979 and the day her husband, Asle, died while boating in the waters. In time the reader will hear the inner thoughts of not just Signe but also Asle and numerous other ancestors, going as far back as his great-great-great grandmother Aliss. Fosse's style is hypnotically repetitive; he'll often describe an object or feeling three or four different ways before moving on. This two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach can be off-putting, but Fosse has such command over his run-on sentences that they gain a musical quality that makes them easy to submit to. ("[T]he darkness is as heavy as he is himself, he thinks, and the darkness is dense and thick, now it is one single darkness, a play of blackness," he writes in a typical riff.) His focus on words comes at the expense of any formal plot, though there are a handful of turning points in the story. We learn how Asle, in an urge to find solitude and to challenge himself, braved the fjord in a storm, and how his grandfather, also named Asle, met a similar fate. This doubling of names, experiences and emotions adds to the hypnotic, eerie quality of the novel, which is ultimately a testament to the indomitability of family, even while it experiences tragic losses. Fosse drives the point home by stressing elemental imagery: water, fire, blood, shelter, earth. The novel doesn't resolve, exactly, but by the end it's clear why Signe is so compelled to look into her past.
A somber but poetic and quietly engaging love story. Fun fact: Fosse has a lifetime stipend from the Norwegian government to produce literary works.
Meet the Author
Called the new Ibsen in the German press, and heralded throughout Western Europe, Jon Fosse is one of contemporary Norwegian literature s most important writers. In 2000, his novel Melancholy won the Melsom Prize, and Fosse was awarded a lifetime stipend from the Norwegian government for his future literary efforts.
Damion Searls is a writer in English and translator from German, French, Dutch, and Norwegian. Searls has translated writers including Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Christa Wolf; his translation of Hans Keilson's "Comedy in a Minor Key"was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in Fiction.
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