Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Norwegian things

The first Norwegian thing is Martin, my moose with the endearingly worried expression.  Here he is in a video of his natural habitat, in that mysterious 'dark light' which also characterises my other Norwegian things.

If the long, morose muzzle of the moose always makes me smile, it's perhaps for the same reason that Ǿrnulf Opdahl's dark, dark paintings fill me with light and joy. The rush from work on Friday evening to see this exhibition before it ended was worth it: I thought I'd like the work, didn't know how much. His paintings are like polished marble shot through with mineral colours.

Ǿrnulf Opdahl exhibition at Kings Place - click to enlarge

Opdahl lives in the landscape, by the seascape that he paints, knows them, treads them, breathes them. The writer of the exhibition catalogue finds a contrast between this daily material knowledge and immersion and the spiritual quality of the paintings. I don't. He's just there, deeply there. There is such subtlety, and the light - the deep, dark light. It's this dark Winter light that seemed perhaps to go out for me this past grey February. So I exult to see it in these paintings of Norway, even farther from the sun.

photo by me:mo, via GoodMorningLight.com
(the website of another wonderful young Chinese photographer)

I chanced on the same dark Norwegian light a day or two later in some pictures taken in Norway by a young Chinese photographer known as me:mo. The dark light, the blue verging on black. It's present too, if more diffuse, in the Norwegian novel I've just read, my first by the much praised mystery writer Karin Fossum. I happened to start not with one of her well known Inspector Sejer series, but with a slight and touching one-off novel, Broken.

Slight is the word that occurred to me recently as a criticism of The Winter House. My problem was not with its slightness as such, though - I like novels of all sizes and complexities. I found The Winter House too slight to bear its broad, heavy themes. Broken is a simple tale, pared down, cool but affecting: not really a crime story, more of a wry look at the failngs and redemptive qualities of character. The lonely, inhibited protagonist works in an art gallery (synchronicity). Spare prose evokes a sparse life. There's space enough to comfortably hold the novel's second strand, a low-key conceit of dialogue between character and author. Slow and spaciously atmospheric, it all feels muted, but not snuffed out - quite the opposite - by the dark light and intense cold of Winter in a small Norwegian town. The somewhat unattractive characters, unemotionally dealt with, are nonetheless, through the force of telling detail, engaging. This was a quiet novel that worked beautifully. I look forward to reading more by Karin Fossum, and feel drawn to Norway every time I look up and smile at my moose.


marja-leena said...

These Norwegian things are fascinating, Jean, from the moose (a Canadian icon too) to the most lovely art, and the book.

Your words about the Norwegian book made me recall some of the comments made by translator David McDuff who blogs at Nordic Voices: http://nordicvoices.blogspot.com/ He's very critical of what he calls the "Nordic Crime Wave" in fiction writing. You may be interested in at least two posts he's written concerning that: http://nordicvoices.blogspot.com/2010/02/more-crime.html

I need to read some Nordic crime fiction to be able to judge for myself, of course, though he seems most concerned that this genre is taking away readers/buyers from more critical work.

Jean said...

Marja-Leena, great links, thank you! Nordic crime fiction is my favourite crime fiction. But I also think there's too much crime fiction and deplore the trend to publish more and more of the same, whatever sells! As someone with an interest in translation, I share David McDuff's concern that the popularity of Nordic crime fiction in translation is minimising the chances of any other Nordic fiction being translated. On the other hand, I certainly don't share his apparent abhorrence of the way many of the best Nordic crime writers are politically on the left and unashamedly use their fiction as a vehicle for social criticism - I'm all for that as long as it is good, multi-dimensional fiction; emphatically not a fan of the ideal of a universalist art that is somehow beyond politics. Very thought-provoking.

Dale said...


Lucy said...

Those paintings are so beautiful.

I liked Kings Place very much when I stopped there last year.