Photo by Tom A. Kolstad (licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0)
The day following the announcement of Jon Fosse’s Nobel Literature Prize win, I made my way to Piccadilly Waterstones in the hopes of getting my hands on some of his work. I had not heard of the Norwegian writer, but I always enjoy literature prizes as a way of discovering new writers and novelists. So, it seems, does everyone else! I arrived to find Europe’s largest bookshop ransacked; completely purged of all of Fosse’s novels, plays, poems, essays… Except for, that is, a single copy of Septology III – V, the second instalment of Fosse’s three-part series of the seven Septology novels.
“It’s [Fitzcarraldo Editions] a small publishing house – I doubt even they have any copies left. They’re all just flying off the shelves!” The bookseller smiled, apologetically.
“That’s fine!” I replied, and impulsively bought it. As I sat on the tube on my way home, I wondered how I was going to read this novel, having no context of its predecessor? Would a Wikipedia summary do the Nobel Prize winner justice? Probably not. Jon Fosse was awarded the prize for his innovation, and his ability to ‘give voice to the unsayable.’ To catch up on the first Septology instalment via a summary would be ridiculous – there was no way I would be able to get the full picture of his style, technique and meaning that way. So, I decided to just dive in blindly, beginning Fosse’s series in the middle.
Septology is a series that questions why we live our own lives, and not anybody else’s. It follows the doppelgängers Asle and Asle who meet each other in their youth and seem to live different versions of the same life. These characters provide the basis for existential questions, and reflections of art, religion and the passing of time. The most distinctive feature of Fosse’s writing in this novel is the absence of all punctuation, save for commas and question marks. This stylistic choice lends itself well to the questions posed by Fosse in the novel. While it can make it difficult to follow, I would argue that this absence of punctuation shows the fluidity of time, and the possibilities of our own lives. The lives of Asle and Asle, for example, are interchangeable, yet separate. I like that sentences only end with question marks; existentialism pervades the novel, and with this punctuation choice, we are left with nothing concrete. In between the question marks, Fosse’s prose is startlingly plain, yet strikingly effective.
His writing has been compared to fellow Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, and since he has been a published writer since 1983, Fosse has written a staggering amount of prose, plays, poems and essays in the last forty years. Already the winner of an obscene amount of literature prizes, for the last decade or so, Fosse says he has been ‘cautiously prepared,’ to win the Nobel Literature Prize. Speaking to Norwegian news outlet NRK, Fosse said he, ‘was surprised when they called, yet at the same time not…It was a great joy…to get the phone call.’
A clearly well-deserved win, I look forward to reading more from Fosse (as soon as his books are back in stock)!
Edited by Lara Mae Simpson, Literature Editor