Of diplomacy and its discontents: an existentialist-tinged character study by acclaimed Norwegian novelist Solstad (Professor Andersen’s Night, 2012, etc.).
Armand V is a diplomat of some distinction, stationed in various European capitals as a representative of the government of Norway. His best moments, however, are experienced back home, where Solstad takes readers on occasional Joycean tours of the city: “And from this exquisite pearl Armand moved up the right side of Kirkeveien and into one of the most anonymous stretches of downtown Oslo. It is so anonymous that it takes a long time before you realize that’s exactly what it is.” An accidental diplomat—he sort of wants to be a writer, sort of wants to restructure the narrative of European history, sort of wants to do anything but pretend to be nice to Americans—Armand is quietly, indignantly opposed to his country’s military involvement in the Middle East: “If he felt a deep rage toward the United States, he never expressed it. If he had, the result would have been that he was honorably discharged from his position as the Norwegian envoy, and he would have then entered the ranks of retirees.” Naturally, his son rebels by joining the military and becoming an elite soldier, returning from Iraq badly wounded, which doesn’t help Armand’s mood. Were this a linear study in Dostoyevskian pessimism, Solstad’s tale would be a tad bit simpler to take in, but he complicates it by writing the whole thing as almost-too-meta footnotes to a book we're not seeing, with observations on, for instance, Armand’s wife’s twin sister, who doesn’t figure much in the narrative but who “has a unique place in the block of text presented here because she doesn’t belong to the premises for the footnotes but is seen exclusively in relation to the material that has actually been written down.” She’s there for a reason, in short, and it’s more than just to have an affair with Armand to liven the bleakness.
If Knausgaard is too cheery for you, then this is just your cup of lutefisk.