New novels by House of Foundation authors Jonny Halberg and Agnar Lirhus: somewhat unconventional, fairly good.
In recent weeks, I have been reading two books by authors affiliated with the art collective and and literature center House of Foundation (HoF) in Moss, Norway. In addition to several smaller studios for artists, HoF has a large exhibition space, a nice, well-stocked bookstore (Audiatur) and a cosy café. HoF cooperate with the regional biannual Momentum art festival, in addition to hosting their own temporary high-quality exhibits. To top it all, the folks arrange annual festivals for poetry and music, the Bright Nights [Lyse netter] fest has acheived national recognition as a venue for exciting, cutting-edge acts.
One of the enthusiasts behind this initiative is Jonny Halberg, an author known to chiefly work in “dirty realism.” He has won several prizes for his many novels, short stories, film scripts, and raft of reviews, articles, and essays. This year he released John’s Revelation [Johannes’ åpenbaring] to critical acclaim (there’s a review here [in Norwegian]). The novel is fairly good, but unfortunately burdened by a protagonist who, in the author’s eagerness to construct a Bildungsroman, appears a little obscure and perhaps less-than-credible.
The book presently on my café table is The Dragon [Dragen] by Agnar Lirhus, an author also loosely affiliated with HoF, in addition to working part-time as a language teacher at a local upper secondary school. I previously read with great pleasure a collections of poems by Agnar, Us [Oss, the name naturally plays on the city’s name, Moss], published by HoF. The Dragon is set in a small town that could be Moss. Indeed, everything from descriptions of the local football field to place names, characters and experiences ring familiar to someone familiar with the town. The plot revolves around a young father, Daniel, whose experience of personal turmoil collides with social expectations of a family life governed by routine and predictability.
Daniel has three young children with Henriette, who periodically disappears into a solipsistic drug haze. In the house where they live, Daniel shares bedroom with his partner and boyfriend, the nurse Martin, on the top floor, with separate bedrooms for the two boys, while Henriette stays in a room on the ground floor with their daughter, for as long as Henriette is off drugs. The family constellation is thus unusual, but not improbable. It is the dynamic between the characters that makes the novel interesting and veracious. Most striking are the descriptions of Daniel’s increasing penchant for the bottle. He vents what he finds to be unbearable expectations of him as a father in an increasingly intense alcoholism, also manifest when the children are present; they go to a restaurant to eat pizza together and Daniel has to drink two pints of beer before the food arrives. The descriptions of his budding abuse are distressing, but phrased in alluring and well-crafted language.
The Dragon appears to tell us that we humans are quite simple and predictable beings. As such, the novel finds its place in the the genre we refer to as heimstadsdiktning, poetry of the home stead. Read more about it here [in Norwegian].