NORSK NOVELISTS IN THE WOODS.

Silje Bekeng is a young Norwegian writer/journalist/critic who gives (or once gave) her location as “Brooklyn/Oslo”; she has a funny essay at N1BR (“the book review supplement to n+1 magazine”) called Into the Woods, about the peculiar obsessions of Norwegian literature going back to Hamsun. I’m sure she exaggerates for effect, but she provides a great series of “excerpts from the jacket copy of novels published by young(ish) writers in recent years” that certainly seem to illustrate her point, which she states here:

One character keeps showing up in our books: the young man having a breakdown in the woods. The plot goes something like this: the young man has never left his hometown, or has returned (because of the death of a parent) after an unsuccessful attempt at life in the big, unruly world. He has some problems communicating. Sometimes the reader is left to wonder if he might be mentally retarded.
He might meet a traditional animal, like a dog or an elk, that plays a significant role in the novel.
He listens to the silence, falls apart. The story mostly stays within the tradition of realism, though it sometimes flirts with surrealist tendencies. How crazy is he really? Would he ever hurt himself—or someone else? Toward the end, he might seem about to regain his composure. He will probably decide to remain in the countryside. Norwegians resemble Americans in this respect: we know that truth is something people find while walking in golden fields of wheat, that small-town life is more real than city life, and that real people are those who grow up with dirt under their fingernails.

She concludes that Hamsun was a great writer, but they need some other role models; it’s hard to disagree. And she mentions Jante Law, a series of ten rules that all boil down to “Don’t think you’re someone special,” which according to Bekeng “is commonly used to describe how provincial and intolerant other Norwegians are”; it was invented by the Danish-Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose (not, as the N1BR text has it, “Sandemo”). I wish I could ask my late mother about it; I suspect it had not lost much of its force in the tiny Norwegian-American Iowa town she came (I almost said “escaped”) from.
A side note: Silje is originally a Finnish name, Silja, that was popularized throughout Scandinavia by its use in Frans Eemil Sillanpää‘s 1931 novel Nuorena nukkunut (The Maid Silja); it’s a vernacular form of Cecilia.

Comments

  1. Oh boy. I can’t wait to be awake enough to read this properly tomorrow morning. Thanks Language, how interesting.

  2. My feeling is that modern, globally-connected urban people are sort of boring to write about because their lives consist entirely of sexual relationships which end badly in a Tolstoyan variety of ways. Who cares? (Take that, Updike! Bellow! Etc.!)
    Despite the hooplah about realism, people want fiction to be about people who are more interesting than themselves. A genuinely realistic book would never be read by anyone. And people want the story to fit into some satisfying shape, with a moral to the story (or more recently, an amoral or an immoral). And most real lives just don’t.
    By and large, you don’t want that kind of interesting life, as Tolstoy, Plato, and the Chinese sages have all pointed out. Given the choice, ask that your life story not have a moral.
    I’ve been reading a bit about 19thc Norwegian literature and it seems that Norse literature was strongly driven by the German translation market. Hamsun seems to have lived mostly off his German royalties, which might account for his horrible politics. Scandinavia is to small to support five literatures all by itself (counting Norse as two and Icelandic as one, but not Finnish).
    And the German Market seemed to want Norwegians to be folkish and exotically Norse.
    I can report that Bjornson is definitely worth a look. The three things I’ve read of his are all odd in sort of accidentally and thoughtlessly violating fundamental conventions of storytelling and 19th century ideology while still producing something readable. (The jury is out on Lie and Kjelland. Early reports are unenthusiastic. Ibsen can never be forgiven for his goddamn problem plays.)
    Now as for Denmark. Their three international authors, Dineson Kierkegaard, and Hans Christian Anderson, were three extraordinarily peculiar individuals, though “batshit crazy” would be too strong. If all Danes were like that I can’t see how the cows would ever get milked.

  3. Despite the hooplah about realism, people want fiction to be about people who are more interesting than themselves. A genuinely realistic book would never be read by anyone. And people want the story to fit into some satisfying shape, with a moral to the story (or more recently, an amoral or an immoral). And most real lives just don’t.
    I don’t know about “more interesting”. Anything I read, fiction or not, has to be interesting and mind-grabbing. I don’t care whether it’s more interesting than anything about myself, or more realistic. It could be that whatever has interest is necessarily different from oneself, by definition of “interest” – otherwise one wouldn’t be interested. There may be a slight problem here in explaining the phenomenon of people gobbled up by themselves. I’ll have to think about that one, when I can find the time.
    Given the choice, ask that your life story not have a moral.
    Sigh. How very, very true.

  4. the ghost of Jante haunts the Scandinavian mind. Any form of bragging or self-congratulation is looked at with suspicion or disregard.
    Our local paper in Norway is running an article about my wife & they sent it to her to make corrections. On reading it she immediately called them and made them remove the phrase “prize-winning artist”.

  5. (Corrections to the accuracy.)

  6. My feeling is that modern, globally-connected urban people are sort of boring to write about because their lives consist entirely of sexual relationships which end badly in a Tolstoyan variety of ways. Who cares?
    Whereas young men who have a breakdown in the woods, have problems communicating, and ultimately decide to remain in the countryside are fascinating?
    Personally, I don’t give a damn what the ostensible subject and plot of a book are as long as it’s well written and keeps me interested. Updike occasionally bores me; Bellow never. Never read Etc.

  7. As an American I can only wish that the Jante code applied here. (It actually does here in Lake Wobegon, to a degree.) Living here, if you’re involved in the culture at all, life is a constant shower of bragging.

  8. Young men breaking down in the woods is an overused attempt at being interesting. The same gimmick can only be use so many times. But in general, you have to juice up reality somehow.
    As far as Updike goes, I didn’t even like Flaubert’s attempt to redeem the ordinary with Style, and Flaubert cheated by selecting an atypical boring person who committed suicide after a couple of affairs. (I suppose I should read Salambo, which was super-exotic).
    Suppose Ms. Bovary had married her father’s peasant friend and settled down on the farm raising ducks and rutabagas, not terribly happily but without major problems? Could Flaubert have written a full length book about her? I doubt it. She was as boring as he could handle. (One such attempt was Connell’s “Mr. Bridge” and its wife book “Mrs. Bridge” but I didn’t finish reading the Mr. book because…. [*rimshot*])
    Updike juiced up Rabbit’s life too, I think, but I’ll never know because I just can’t stand his overwriting and his general purpose. I dutifully went through the modern fiction of the day in 1964 or so, and developed a permanent antipathy to all of them but Roth and Ellison. In Updike’s case I started out liking him, too, in his short stories.

  9. As an American I can only wish that the Jante code applied here.
    I thought the Jante code was still alive in Iowa, Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. My aunt and uncle from Eau Claire still live by it as far as I can tell. Is it dying out in the younger generations? The Yankee version of the Jante law in Northern New England really seems to be breaking down under pressure from immigration from Massachusetts and New York.

  10. Sillanpää is actually read little in Finland in these days. His temperament and sensibility feel either too Southern or un-Finnish, or then he is too frank about things which we’d prefer not to speak about. In Ihmiset suviyössä, there is actually a scene where one man stabs another with knife, and actually feels an erotic or sexual tingle doing it. Sillanpää worded it with great decorum, and it was, well, psychologically sound, but at the same time, I think most Finns feel very uneasy about such frankness.

  11. Well, it is, Vanya, but America is a big country and seems to favor its least Janteian members.

  12. I was going to say, in my book of folkisg stories by Lie, set among fishermen in the far North, the Finns are almost all sorcerers, though sometimes nice sorcerers.

  13. Updike–I refuse to read any more of that. I never liked Rabbit–he was amoral and purposeless and drifted around just letting things happen to him, without even having any interesting human personal reaction to whatever was happening.
    I thought the Jante code was still alive in Iowa, Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.
    In Lake Wobegon, the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average. Also you will note Lake Wobegon has a church named “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility”. I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard “above average” and “responsibility” when I was growing up. If that wasn’t enough to discourage imitative crowd behavior, there was also the phrase “If Johnny jumped in a lake would you do it too” used to pooh-pooh any claim that “all the kids are doing it”. This might also be the origin of the “you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny” bumper sticker.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    Everybody seems to be familiar with “Jante’s law”. I am not. Please enlighten me.

  15. It’s discussed in the article that Language links to at the beginning of his piece. Also the Wikipedia Jante Law article is linked just below the quotation.

  16. J. Del Col says:

    Jante law sounds like a manifesto for the Tea Party’s mad hatters.

  17. The inciteful thing she says about it in her article is The Jante Law is commonly used to describe how provincial and intolerant other Norwegians are. Typically, when a self-assured artist receives criticism, he or she might reject it by saying: “There’s just so much Jante Law in this country.” Meaning: “I’m misunderstood by these narrow-minded, small-town people. You should see how Paris greets me.”
    Sigbjørn Obstfelder is someone I first heard of only about a week ago, when my daughter had a test at school (she got 6/6). What a funny name for a nature lover, I thought. There are some writers who are so very aggressive in their praise of the countryside and country life, Hamsun and D.H. Lawrence for example. I’d rather read Stella Gibbons and Beatrix Potter any day.

  18. The “Minnesota nice” Wiki article references Jante law.
    My understanding of Minnesota nice is that it involves avoiding unpleasantness and expressing general positive feelings while pretty much keeping your distance and minding your own business. These all are good things in my opinion. But in my experience around here it also involves quite extraordinary levels of active helpfulness. Not to me so far, but to people in general.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, AJP. I had not read the first link.
    Something like that law seems to be quite prevalent in Nova Scotia where I currently live. I did not grow up with that type of law, but “you can be anything you want to be” was certainly alien to my family. Many times I heard my father say in a disapproving tone Elle a fait ce qu’elle a voulu “She did what she wanted”, about women my parents knew who had done something not really outrageous but somewhat off the beaten track (studied opera singing, for instance).

  20. I interpret the Jante law more in terms of not putting on airs, not bragging, and not telling other people what to do than in not trying to do anything.
    The “compact majority” in Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” sounds Jante-esque. Ibsen apparently hated a lot of things about Norwegian life (and lived elsewhere), and rather than the social-problems author I remember him as being, he’s said to be an advocate of personal independence.

  21. “Acting white”–success in education viewed as betrayal of culture:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acting_white

  22. michael farris says:

    I wonder how much popular Norwegian fiction is currently being shaped by translation considerations. Without checking the NYTimes article, the kind of Norwegian fiction best represented in Poland at present are historical fantasy/romance(?) series (Margit Sandemo and the like).
    Since she’s under-represented in English:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margit_Sandemo
    There’s a bewildering variety of them available mainly sold in kiosks and newstands more than bookstores. A few months ago on vacation I managed to scarf up a couple from the book-exchange table in my hotel, by authors with improbably names like: Liv Karin Kirkeboeen Almendingen and Trude Braenne Larssen.

  23. Margit Sandemo and the like
    Ah, that must be where the “Sandemo” in the Bekeng piece came from! I thought it was an odd typo.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    Lie’s finner are Saami (and so are Hamsun’s). Finn meant Saami in Norwegian at the time, much as Lapp in Swedish. The Finnish speakers of Finnmark were (are) called kvæner, an old word for the Finnish speakers around the Bothnian bay.
    Margit Sandemo and Aksel Sandemose are not identical. At least not yet. It’s been suggested to merge authors with similar names to simplify the literary history.
    Sandemose meant Janteloven as a universal law of the small town, where everybody conforms to the same ideal and secretly suspects that they’re missing something important, and where every achievement is suspect and every reminder of what might have been must be put to an immediate death. He circles around the law throughout his book En flyktning krysser sitt spor (“A refugee crossing his trail”). Here’s one of his turns:

    Jeg var elleve-tolv år da Petrus Arnakke blev leder av et kommunalt anlegg. Det var bare en liten stilling, men det var stor misunnelse i småbyen hvor det hadde vært mange ute efter posten, og hvor forresten ingen undte den andre noe. Når en lyktetenner var død var den første tanke i Jante hvem som nu skulde ha posten, og misunnelsen lå parat til å smekke sammen kjevene.

    I was eleven or twelve when Petrus Arnakke was made leader of a public project. It was only a minor position, but there was great envy in the small town where many had been striving for the job, and where nobody wanted anything for anybody anyway. When a lamplighter was dead the first thought in Jante was who would be getting the job now, and envy was ready to click its jaws.

    A newer incarnation is Ingar Sletten Kolloen‘s Bygdedyret “the countryside beast” in his biography of the poet Tor Jonsson. Bygdedyret is the collective narrow mind that (in Kolloen’s narrative) broke the talented youngster down and eventually made him take his own life, as it will try to break down and kill anything out of the ordinary.
    [Tor Jonsson was a native of Lom in Gudbrandsdalen, just as Hamsun. Kolloen has written biographies of both. Another poet from the parish is Olav Aukrust, the uncle of Kjell Aukrust, author and artist whose long-running parody of rural news provided the universe for Ivo Caprino's Flåklypa and whose series of humourous books from his childhood has become national mythology. Caprino's right hand and model builder was Bjarne Sandemose, the son of Axel, so don't think I took you through this bracketed paragraph for nothing.]
    I should have said something deep and insightful about the wave of rural breakdowns, but the sad fact is that I practically gave up reading novels eleven years ago. When I picked up En flyktning from the bookshelf I found an untouched 1999 edition of Sandemose’s En sjømann går i land (“A sailor goes ashore”) mext to it. I honestly believe that many of the young writers are good, but I haven’t done anything about it. The closest I get is Per Petterson’s internationally acclaimed Ut å stjæle hester (“Out stealing horses”) about an old(ish) man in rural solitude and his memories of his father (and it’s worth all the praise it’s been given).

  25. That aspect of Jante-ism is like the zero-sum “society of limited good”, which is characteristic of many peasant and poor rural societies, Chinese, Appalachian, Sicilian, etc. It’s always assumed that anything that one person gains, someone else has lost.
    It’s a bit different than the national Jante-ism people talk about.

  26. Despite the hooplah about realism, people want fiction to be about people who are more interesting than themselves.
    Do you think that little of yourself? The lives of “ordinary” people are very interesting, no? But perhaps it’s beyond even the greatest writers to capture that.

  27. Make a list of great novels. How ordinary are the people?
    Most people live uneventful lives. By and large that’s preferable for the person, but not for the storyteller. That’s one of the reasons Plato banned the arts, artists have a sort of vested interest in trouble.
    “Realists” and “naturalists” gravitate toward the wretched poor or other individuals who had horrible problems. Or quaint country people. At one point most of the most popular American novels were about hillbillies, preferably murderous inc*stous hillbillies. Or impoverished, insane Southern aristocrats.
    Kafka understood the problem and turned Gregor into a beetle. Can you imagine that story without the plot twist? The last few pages of the book are a return to the boring.
    Stephen Dedalus wasn’t boring, though Joyce did write a book without events, as boring as I can call to mind. Now imagine the book with a bright normal, semi-educated Stephen whose main interests were stamp-collecting and watching cricket.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    people want fiction to be about people who are more interesting than themselves.
    I think that most people are not so much concerned about fictional characters being more interesting than themselves, but about characters much like themselves (even if slightly more glamorous) having more interesting and exciting experiences than they do, so that the readers can identify with the characters and live those experiences vicariously, temporarily escaping from their own drab or difficult existence.

  29. John Emerson is quite right. Any kind of “realism” is an artifice and it usually requires skill to produce it. Realism is quite different from “real life”. You have been conned, Will.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    It’s a bit different than the national Jante-ism people talk about.
    Indeed. Sandemose’s Jante was the universal narrow society, not the aspect of the national character that it’s come to denote. The latter has more to do with an ideal of stoicism and social solidarity than with smalltown envy. Some want to equal the two, but that’s not fair. As a nation we’ve traditionally found pride in sports heroes, artists, politicians, even shipping tycoons, of international fame, but they lose us when they belittle their opponents or move to a tax haven. Or that’s how we like to see ourselves. It may have changed in the last generation or so.

  31. Most novelists who grew up in American small towns hated the Janteism and left town forever, so the American picture of small-town life is quite negative among novel-reading persons. A lot of the novels (Main Street, Winesburg) were written almost a century ago and describe a bygone age.
    Depending on the town, though, the people who stayed in town usually like the place, though many of them have might-have-beens that come out when you know them better.
    Garrison Keillor’s things are a sort of counter to the standard picture, but keillor lives in Minneapolis-St. Paul, which sometimes seems too small for him. Irony!

  32. Your shipping tycoon Arne Naess is the nephew of the philosopher / superhero Arne Naess of the same name, right? It must be rough being a billionaire and not even being the top person around with your name.

  33. They should clearly be merged, as per Trond’s suggestion above.

  34. Indeed. Sandemose’s Jante was the universal narrow society, not the aspect of the national character that it’s come to denote.
    Indeed. For me as a small town boy, the Jante book was personally very important, when I was about twenty years old, I read it as if it were the Bible of my personal religion. I remember from the Swedish edition I read the chapter called Det stora Jante, which addressed this question, implying that mankind is the real master Jante there is.

  35. A century ago most people in Sweden and Norway were bitterly poor, and some of the Jante-ism is probably a survival of that not-terribly-distant life.

  36. He wasn’t very high in the ranking of Norwegian shipping millionaires. His main claim to fame was that he was married to Diana Ross and that he subsequently told her they were getting divorced during a tv interview. It was in revenge for something or other. He climbed mount Everest and was clearly a complete asshole.

  37. michael farris says:

    “He climbed mount Everest and was clearly a complete asshole.”
    That’s certainly my main criterion for determining who is and isn’t an asshole: “Oooh I climbed Mt Evvvverest!” goddamnned mountain climbing assholes.

  38. Trond Engen says:

    He climbed mount Everest and was clearly a complete asshole.
    Do we all agree on which object is metaphorical and which is literal?

  39. I never figured JE for a Freeper.

  40. I think some memoirs show that there are remarkable stories in unremarkable lives. An ordinary person (though perhaps an extraordinary writer)–not someone who has survived a concentration camp, or been president of the United States–can make tens of thousands of readers interested in their life. David Sedaris is one example I’m familiar with. Many of the things he writes about are quite ordinary: moving furniture, visiting relatives. His writing is fun to read not because he and his friends and family are unusually interesting, but because he is very good at conveying whatever interestingness they do have. I think that everyone has stories worth telling, but that most of us are terrible at actually telling these stories. Some people are better at this. Not quite a great novel, but not as far as you make it out to be.
    Just looking at my bookshelf:
    Post Office by Charles Bukowski-this is a book about a guy who hates his job and drinks a lot
    Chekhov-some of his stuff basically nothing happens and no one is very unusual
    some other stuff
    But really, I wasn’t trying to make a point about “realism” in literature, because I’m not even sure what that means. All writing, literature or non-fiction, must diverge from reality at some level. Dialogue in print is almost always more fluent in print than in real life. There’s a finite limit of how much text you can print, which means that we always read an abridged story and that our knowledge is limited based on the choices of the writer. Other reasons, too.
    I would agree that, in most cases, an interesting person who has great power or fame, or who is set upon some grand background, like murder, or war, or foreign adventures, would be more interesting than an ordinary person (although I don’t know what this has to do with realism; is such a person less real than us?). And because of this, perhaps, most of the greatest books deal with extraordinary people or extraordinary circumstances. But if you are like me, you often read things other than Great Novels, so you have some time for people who are not at all extraordinary and yet are still interesting and are worth reading and writing about.
    As for your story about a stamp-collector. You could simply ignore his stamp-collecting and focus on some other aspect of life (maybe Stephen Dedalus was a stamp-collector, but it was never revealed). OR perhaps you are underestimating stamp-collecting and a good treatment of stamp-collecting would actually make a story more interesting. Maybe you could examine the peculiarities of stamp collectors, or you could take a tour of America thru a cross-country run of stamp conventions, or attach some poignancy to stamp-collecting (exactly as is done by Graham Greene in The Heart of the Matter).
    Take some time now and then to eavesdrop on public conversation. Watch people at work or at play. HUMANS!
    I could understand if you hated us, but I don’t understand why you think us so boring.

  41. Will, I don’t hate you all. And I read few novels of any kind, any more, and my not reading a novel about some class of people (or any class of people at all) isn’t because I hate them.
    I was just giving my theory about why Norwegian authors don’t write novels about typical Norwegians, and I gave two different theories, both saying that the typical Norwegian isn’t very interesting to write about (but implicitly extending it to non-Norwegians). And then I generalized to some things about novels, and boringness, and realism and naturalism.
    Jane Austen does write about ordinary people, but then she brings in Darcy in the end. My guess is that novels about ordinary people tend to be satirical, as Austen’s basically were. Or perhaps social-problems realism, if the ordinary person is an ordinary person with dramatic problems.

  42. I think there was an American series (or movie) called Ordinary People. I’ve never read or seen it, but was assured by a former colleague that they are anything but “ordinary people”.
    I also notice that Thomas the Tank Engine has more than its share of derailments and other disasters. Fortunately no one is ever injured, but I imagine it would be much less interesting to its target audience (2-4 year old boys, I think) if it portrayed railway life as it actually was…

  43. Fortunately no one is ever injured
    Hardly anyone is ever injured beyond repair. There are a few exceptions. A very unpleasant bus called Bulgy gets stuck under a bridge and is ruined for good, and of course some freight cars (BrE trucks) are smashed to pieces. But any steam engine who undergoes damage comes back better than ever.
    When my son was 2-4 he watched a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine stories on TV. There were certain scenes that he could not bring himself to watch: not the ones where someone gets hurt, but the ones where someone is disobedient and gets in trouble.

  44. CapGemini attributes the large number of Norwegian dollar-millionaires to their enormous piles of money.
    The Thomas The Tank Engines I like are the ones narrated by Ringo Starr. Next to The Wire, they’re the best thing on television.

  45. Freight cars aren’t trucks. Trucks are lorries, freight cars are train wagons that carry freight.

  46. Will, if there are lots of David Sedarises and Charles Bukovskis in your neighbourhood, I want to move there.

  47. What Bekeng doesn’t mention in her article (which, yes, of course is exaggerated, but still makes some valid, witty points) is that one of the best Norwegian novels the last 10-15 years, is about a man breaking down in the woods. It’s Thure Erik Lund’s ‘Grøftetildragelsesmysteriet’ from 1999 or something. I’m afraid it is untranslatable, which is also why it is so good.
    Point is: Bekeng is only focusing on content in her article (which is fair enough, especially since she is dealing with a literature on another language). In my opinion, the discussion is losing its track when it’s reduced to which themes one could write about or not. In Lund, that good old dichotomy of form/content has completely vanished – the language has a kind of organic, uncontrollable feel to it, almost like it is ‘natural’ (which it of course isn’t, but Lund is dealing with ‘nature’ in an essay collection called ‘On Nature’ or something like that, which I unfortunately haven’t read yet).
    Pardon my English. Even though I’ve been living in an English speaking country for two months, I still have trouble with both grammar and flow.
    Reg.

  48. Bathrobe says:

    Goods wagons (enclosed)? Or coal wagons (for carrying coal)?

  49. Bathrobe says:

    Reg… If you hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t have thought English isn’t your native language.

  50. At least the Norwegians aren’t always writing books about women having sex with bears.

  51. Reg… If you hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t have thought English isn’t your native language.
    Same here. And Lund’s novel certainly sounds intriguing.

  52. Well, thanks, but my (nick)name is not Reg, it was a shortened ‘Regards’ which might prove my point about my own language. (Smiley) So even though it technically might be grammatically correct now and then, it still feels like an ill-fitting vestment. (My stay here has made me realize how much I _am_ language.)
    I’m probably not the right to speak, since the novel I mentioned is the first part of a ‘quadrology’ called ‘Myrbråtenfortellingene’ (The Myrbråten Tales), and I’ve only read that one so far. But it is indeed very intriguing, and it seems to be an increasing interest for him in Norway. He came completely unexpected on me, a kind of writer that is slow, yet intense, to read. Like resin, yes, he is resinous.
    But as I said, I think he is very hard to translate as he mixes dialects, invented words etc. in an … organic (still the best word I can come up with) way.
    Appreciate your site, by the way.
    Regards,
    Arne Borge

  53. I was aware that off the rails
    truck (AmE) = lorry (BrE)
    I was asserting that on the rails
    freight car (AmE = truck (BrE)
    but I think I meant to say “car” not “truck”.
    I know that Thomas and his colleagues generally prefer to pull coaches rather than cars, which can confuse people like me initially because in our world almost all those things that the engines pull are cars: the coaches (BrE) are passenger cars, and the others are various kinds of freight cars.

  54. J. Del Col says:

    IIRC from my childhood days as a model railroader, ‘trucks’ on railroad cars refers to the wheel assemblies, so each freight car, for instance, would have two trucks, as would each passenger coach.

  55. J. Del Col says:

    A followup on railroad ‘trucks.’
    The usage of ‘truck’ to refer to the wheel assemblies on railroad cars is American.
    In British usage, the wheel assemblies on all railroad cars are called ‘bogies.’ And the British call a railroad freight car a ‘truck.’

  56. Sorry, Ø. I suspected when I was writing that I must have got your point wrong.
    I can’t remember this truck business, I always called them wagons, but one thing I do kno is that in England a car (on the railway) is called a carriage.

  57. Yes, the train’s “cars” are behind the engine, box cars, flat cars, passenger cars, tank cars, and finally the caboose at the end. You can never have too many box cars on your model railroad; the smaller tank cars and flat cars aren’t heavy enough and tend to come off the track when you crank it. http://www.atlasrr.com/

  58. Trond Engen says:

    Arne: Thank you. (See what difference it makes actually knowing what one’s writing about.)
    Thure Erik Lund’s ‘Grøftetildragelsesmysteriet’
    That’s one of those I’ve been meaning to read.
    Norwegian Wikipedia quotes a review by the late Øystein Rottem in Dagbladet (do I miss him) (and I won’t even try to translate):

    «deler av denne boka likner en intellektuell heisekran som med sine luftige paradokser og steinharde resonnementer løfter og tynger på samme tid, svinger oss rundt og holder oss svevende i en konstant tilstand av svimmel tankeflukt. Andre deler likner et grovinnstilt treskeverk som spytter ut bannskap og råttenskap, slimete kroppssmetaforer og stinkende avfall i en stri strøm som etterlater oss i en oppløst tilstand av kvalmende ubehag.»

  59. Google Translate:

    Parts of this book resembles an intellectual crane which, with its airy paradoxes and rock hard reasoning promises and burdens at the same time, turn us around and keep us floating in a constant state of giddy mind’s eye view. Other parts resemble a coarse set threshing machine that spits out swearing and rottenness, kroppssmetaforer slimy and smelly waste into a powerful current that leaves us in a dissolved state of sickening discomfort.

  60. Here is the review without the extra s typo that messed up Google Translate.

  61. Bathrobe says:

    Wait a tick. It was goods van.

  62. The goods van is for the guard at the back. In America, it has the wonderful name, a caboose.

  63. That’s one hell of a lot of metaphors for one review, don’t you think, Trond & Reg? My wife sometimes buys Dagbladet, but I prefer the Asker & Bærum Budstikke.

  64. Cabooses (cabeese?) are basically obsolete, at least on American trains, thanks to technical improvements and the prevalence of roadside accommodations.
    For the avoidance of confusion, it should be noted that the versions of TTTE aired in the U.S. are dubbed by an American voice (or, in recent episodes where the trains’ voices are heard, American voices).
    Come to think of it, does Jante Law apply on the Island of Sodor? It must have been Norse-speaking at one time, given the very obvious derivation of Sodor from Suðreyjar.

  65. Goods van appears to be a sort of freight car or goods wagon — maybe the same as a boxcar.
    Guard’s van or brake van seems to be the British equivalent of caboose.
    Of the Thomas and Friends videos that I know of, the earlier ones are narrated by Ringo Starr (British), the later ones (but this was some time ago) by George Carlin (American). As far as I know both sets are or were aired in the US.
    I always called them wagons, but one thing I do know is that in England a car (on the railway) is called a carriage.
    Ringo certainly said “‘On, on’, guffawed the cars”, referring to some mischievous goods-carrying vehicles who were trying to push an unfortunate engine down a hill at breakneck speed.
    By the way, Ringo stressed the first syllable of “guffawed”. Is that an English thing, or a Liverpudlian thing, or a personal thing, I wonder.

  66. It’s a Ringo thing. Mind you, he does have a very good sense of rhythm.

  67. J. Del Col says:

    There haven’t been cabooses on American trains for at least twenty years. Coal trains rumble through here (Philippi, WV) every day with nary a caboose in sight.

  68. Um, we have cabooses. And they are all a proper red color, not like some of those odd Wikipedia photos. If you wave to the people in the caboose, they always wave back.

  69. Thanks Trond and MMcM The review of ‘Grøftetildragelsesmysteriet’ is very well written. I will definitely read more of him this summer when I get back home to Norway. Lund is, in my opinion incredibly funny. I still like Solstad a lot, though, and I wouldn’t contradict him to Lund as they have different projects running.
    I thinks academics and critics often have trouble when they argue about how form and content are intrinsically intertwined, but Lund is a perfect example of this in work. So, to repeat my point, this (i.e. form/language) is what Bekeng misses in her ‘report’ of the Norwegian literary condition, but it wouldn’t be fair to use it against her. The essay is witty enough, though as a Norwegian, the ‘Jante Law’ feels kind of like an outworn cliché.

  70. J. Del Col says:

    The only caboose I have seen in many years is parked on our campus. It is used to store soccer equipment and is painted blue.
    Tourist excursion trains still have cabooses, mainly to pander to nostalgic rail buffs, though on some short lines, the caboose still serves as a brakeman’s shelter. On virtually all mainlines, the caboose has gone the way of the steam engine.
    If you wave at the engine crew on most trains, they’ll wave, too.
    Years ago I had a student who was totally obsessed with trains. He would pay fellow students to drive him to Grafton, WV so he could watch the trains being shunted around at the big rail yard there. All that is gone now.

  71. as a Norwegian, the ‘Jante Law’ feels kind of like an outworn cliché.
    If you mean it’s an unfair stereotype, as you see, few non-Norwegians who don’t live in Minnesota have heard of it. It’s worth mentioning in her article, because it’s a social problem–if a minor one–that Norwegians still haven’t overcome (I live there, I’m an expert).

  72. By the way, could someone enlighten me as to how to pronounce Bekeng? I don’t even know which syllable to stress.

  73. Trond Engen says:

    If the name is parsed as I believe, it’s /2be:keN/, i.e. phonologically straightforward and in the second tone.

  74. Thanks!

  75. Trond Engen says:

    I should add that the first element ‘bek’ is slightly disturbing. I don’t find her surname as a farm (or homestead) name in Rygh‘s Norske Gaardnavne. That may simply mean that it was the name of a small, subordinate entity, like a craft, but it may also mean that the name is foreign and I’m basing my parsing on surface similarity.

  76. John Emerson says:

    Few Minnesotans have heard of the Jante Law, but Garrison Keillor has made a version of it famous.

  77. Panu:
    Ihmiset is a wonderful book. I don’t know how close to reality Sillanpää’s Finland is (or was), but like Kipling’s India and Joyce’s Dublin, it’s a place where I enjoy a vacation. Thinking about those passages where he touches frankly on “things which we’d prefer not to speak about,” I wonder if they are disturbing because we put ourselves in the place of our parents (or grandparents) reading them. Didn’t he regularly address the nation on the radio? In that case Finns seemed to have welcomed him into their homes.
    Kippis!

  78. As to why Norwegians sometimes think of references to the Jante Law as cliched and tired, this is because such references have been (mis)used–especially in the eighties–by yuppie types and noveaux riches (Bekeng says something similar in her article). This does not, of course, invalidate the original thoughts of Sandemose.
    As to Norwegian contemporary novels often being “in the woods”, I think it was another Norwegian author, Jon Bing, who a few years ago said something about Norwegian novels having more people driving tractors than using computers, and that this might be a loss for Norwegian literature, as far more people have jobs with computers than tractors nowadays. Of course, as pointed out by some of the other Norwegian posters here, it is possible to write relevant literature about quite atypical characters.

  79. Interesting. I didn’t realise that Janteloven was anything but inherently Danish. I thought it took a Norwegian to satirise Danes.
    It’s still alive, but not so well anymore. A (n in)famous handball player was fond of blaming it for her poor image, though. Bad idea. The Law of Jante will still bite you on the arse if you taunt it.

  80. AJP: I agree with you, which is why I also said ‘as a Norwegian’. I see clearly why she’s using it in an article published for an American/international reception.
    I haven’t read Sandemose (either), but I’ve also heard that the ‘Jante Law’ has a richer and more interesting use in his book than in the common use of it afterwards.

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