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Quirky and depressing
on January 30, 2012
This Norwegian novel can be amusing here and there, but in the end it's almost entirely depressing. Mattias, the narrator, is a very sweet man, highly introverted with absolutely no ambition and a fondness for Buzz Aldrin. As he notes, he was the kid in school who you never noticed. His head is full of pop culture and little else.
I found while reading this book that I was quite like the narrator's girlfriend. I was charmed at first by Mattias. He's so disarmingly low key and fundamentally honest that you want to understand what makes him tick. But after about a third of the way through this thick yet breezy book, I grew irritated with his complete lack of ambition and wanted to dump him. In response to his girlfriend, who he truly loves, dumping him, Mattias travels from Norway to the remote, cold, rainy Faroe Islands and painfully rebuilds his life from the ground up. In response to understanding that Mattias would never really grow up, I dumped him just like his girlfriend and picked up another book in the hope of finding something more interesting to read than a story about a depressed man obsessed with pop culture and Buzz Aldrin.
The translation here is excellent. But while you can translate language, you can't always translate foreign culture into something compelling. This novel, in the end, has a lot in common with every Norwegian movie I've ever seen. It's low key, full of dry humor, and its characters seem to move through a constant existential fog. I think I'd have to be either Norwegian or depressed to find this book compelling. Given what I've seen in Norwegian movies (and read in this novel), I'm thankful that neither is true.