A fisherman confronts his life, loves, and mortality in this elliptical, somber novella.
The veteran Norwegian novelist Fosse (Aliss at the Fire, 2010, etc.) has a knack for compressing an entire lifetime into a few key moments in a few dozen pages. This book, echoing its title’s evocation of birth and death, opens with the birth of Johannes, an event described in run-on language that captures his father’s anxiety and mother’s exhaustion (“What a good strong boy Johannes yes and to stay in this stay here where nothing else Johannes will be a fisherman like his father”). The prose becomes less abstract in a longer second section that captures Johannes, who indeed became a fisherman, in his old age. But the mood is still unsettled in ways that suggest a ghost story: A widower, he steps out one morning contemplating his long life, seven children, and friendship with Peter, with whom he takes a portentous trip out into a nearby bay. Whether the instability has to do with Johannes' weakened state or something more metaphysical is a question Fosse leaves largely open to the reader; he weaves in mentions of superstitions and questions of God’s existence not so much to deliver direct comments on them but to suggest the ways our thinking flows uncertainly around them. Johannes’ recollections of a young girlfriend,  his late wife,  and caretaker daughter, Signe, are tender but unromantic—Fosse’s poetic prose implies that the things we love are just out of our grasps. (One paragraph is a riff on whether Signe actually sees him while approaching him.)  While Fosse’s writing is easy to admire—Johannes is beautifully depicted—it’s also easy to anticipate the grim place the story is moving toward.
A brief yet dense contemplative sketch weighted with spiritual touches.