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ALISS AT THE FIRE by Jon Fosse

ALISS AT THE FIRE

By Jon Fosse (Author) , Damion Searls (Translator)

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56478-573-2
Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Slim, mournful tale of loss and memory in a coastal Norwegian town, first published in Norway in 2003.

The novel opens with a series of shifts in perspective, time and identity that hint at the experimentation that follows. We immediately meet Signe, an aging woman living alone near a fjord. The story is set in 2002, but Signe is soon thinking back to 1979 and the day her husband, Asle, died while boating in the waters. In time the reader will hear the inner thoughts of not just Signe but also Asle and numerous other ancestors, going as far back as his great-great-great grandmother Aliss. Fosse’s style is hypnotically repetitive; he’ll often describe an object or feeling three or four different ways before moving on. This two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach can be off-putting, but Fosse has such command over his run-on sentences that they gain a musical quality that makes them easy to submit to. (“[T]he darkness is as heavy as he is himself, he thinks, and the darkness is dense and thick, now it is one single darkness, a play of blackness,” he writes in a typical riff.) His focus on words comes at the expense of any formal plot, though there are a handful of turning points in the story. We learn how Asle, in an urge to find solitude and to challenge himself, braved the fjord in a storm, and how his grandfather, also named Asle, met a similar fate. This doubling of names, experiences and emotions adds to the hypnotic, eerie quality of the novel, which is ultimately a testament to the indomitability of family, even while it experiences tragic losses. Fosse drives the point home by stressing elemental imagery: water, fire, blood, shelter, earth. The novel doesn’t resolve, exactly, but by the end it’s clear why Signe is so compelled to look into her past.

A somber but poetic and quietly engaging love story. Fun fact: Fosse has a lifetime stipend from the Norwegian government to produce literary works.