Aliss at the Fire

Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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.

Dalkey Archive Press

Winner of the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Translation

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A drowning is solemnly relived over the generations in Fosse's circuitous, claustrophobic tale. The text begins in 2002, rewinds to late November 1979, then farther back to the initial occurrence on November 17, 1897: a woman stands at a window watching as a storm kicks up, waiting for her husband to return from taking a rowboat out on the fjord. The participants change fluidly and the passage of time is flattened, from the present couple, Signe and Asle, to a mother and child standing at a bonfire on the bay, recognized by Signe and Asle as Asle's great-great-grandmother, Aliss, and her small son, Kristoffer. In a kind of premonition of the later, central tragedy, Kristoffer falls into the water and is rescued by Aliss, though in the next generation, Kristoffer's son, Asle--namesake of Signe's husband--will have a different experience on the water on his seventh birthday. The immense burden of family history weighs heavily on each generation as ghosts, memories, and tragedies collide to effects both confounding and enlightening. (Sept.)
Bergens Tidende
“What he writes is so simple and so deep at the same time. He has a restlessness, a tension in his narrative style, and he writes about situations everyone feels involved in, no matter where in the world they are.”
The New York Times
“Fosse . . . has been compared to Ibsen and to Beckett, and it is easy to see his work as Ibsen stripped down to its emotional essentials. But it is much more. For one thing, it has a fierce poetic simplicity.”
Kirkus Reviews

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781564785732
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
  • Publication date: 9/16/2010
  • Series: Norwegian Literature Series
  • Pages: 100
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

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 writes in English and has translated many of Europe's greatest writers: Rilke, Proust, Ingeborg Bachmann, Peter Handke, Nescio, Jon Fosse, Robert Walser, Kurt Schwitters, and others. He has received a Fulbright Fellowship, an NEA, and a PEN Translation Fund award; his most recent books are an abridged edition of Thoreau's Journal and a new selection and translation of Rilke's poetry and prose, called The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams. His travelogue Everything You Say Is True appeared in 2004.

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