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The Buzz Aldrin of Norway or It's Hard Being Number Two.,
This review is from: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?: A Novel (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program (What's this?)Spoiler alert
When Johan Harstad's novel opens up, Mattias is a gardener at a local nursery, who arranges and delivers flowers to the dying and the dead as his employer slowly loses business to big box stores. The novel is told through Mattias's viewpoint in a rambling, conversational manner that often approaches stream-of-consciousness. It's not a surprise to learn that Harstad is also a playwright as Buzz Aldrin often feels like a one-man play.
The novel's slightly off beat title stems from the notion that Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon after the significantly more famous Neil Armstrong, yet it's Aldrin that Matthias identifies with, since he spends most of his life being the person you recognize as going to the same high school with, but not his name or much else about him. And Mattias has a conflicted relationship with this role in life:
"Do you remember me?
Can you picture me?
I was the worst thing of all. I was ordinary.
I was practically invisible, wasn't I?" (26).
Yet, or even as a result, too much attention causes Mattias to act erratically. His mainland girlfriend Helle breaks up with him on a mountaintop yet pretends to still be with him until the trip is over. When he takes up gardening on the Faroe Islands, he becomes the subject of a local newspaper, which he decides to be obnoxious to the reporter in the hopes he won't write an article about his exploits.
It's this kind response that gets Mattias trapped on the Faroe Islands, blacked out, away from friends at a remote bus stop with a bloody arm when he meets Harvstein, a physiologist/counselor who runs a small halfway house in a factory that makes souvenirs.
As the title implies, the novel makes quite a few pop culture references, especially with the Cardigans, whose album names garnish the novel's five sections. Most Mattias explains [if not perhaps some choices Dawkin makes in her translation] and even if a few slip past readers, the novel doesn't overly use such references.
Even though Buzz Aldrin primarily takes place on the dreary Faroe Islands, the novel moves briskly and would make an excellent summer read, for a contemporary literature reader, that somewhat surprisingly matches up with its notions of travel and equatorial ending.
It's wonderful that Deborah Dawkin and Seven Stories have brought Harstand to English speaking audiences and as a German review notes, thinking of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series, "It doesn't always have to be crime novels [alone] that come from Scandinavia."