One man’s amnesia prompts divergent and sometimes-conflicting remembrances from those close to him.
The central figure in this plainspoken but psychologically penetrating novel (the first in a trilogy) is David, who has lost his memory in an accident and places a notice in the paper requesting letters detailing his past. Three step up: Arvid, David’s stepfather and dying vicar in their small Norwegian town, and a pair of childhood friends, Jon and Silje. Tiller’s strategy is to establish a kind of public persona for each of them—Arvid cold and aloof, Jon antisocial and self-pitying, Silje free-spirited—and then muddy and blur that simplistic portraiture. Jon, for instance, is indeed an impossibly needy and sour musician—as the novel opens he’s called out on this by other members of his band, which he promptly quits—but his stories of his past and present reveal a struggle with family bullying, his lust for David, and an awareness of his inability to check his anger. And his story casts doubts on Arvid’s and Silje’s versions, just as theirs do his. (Did Jon truly have a fling with David, or was it just wishful thinking?) As with a Norwegian contemporary, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Tiller believes the path to interior insight comes via a straight march through unadorned detail: Arvid’s agony over his lost faith and David’s adolescent dark obsessions resonate with his painful stint in a hospital for cancer treatment, and Silje’s recollections of David’s malicious pranks (like leaving a ladies’ scarf on the scene of a man’s car accident to imply an affair) echo her crumbling marriage. There are still unresolved questions for the next two books to deal with, the identity of David’s biological father first among them, but this by itself is a wholly satisfying story about how unreliable narrators tell tales not just about events, but about our core emotions.
A poised and effective Rashomon-style exploration of multiple psyches.