FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR TRANSLATED LITERATURE
A mother and son move to a village in northern Norway, each ensconced in their own world. Their distance has fatal consequences.
Love is the story of Vibeke and Jon, a mother and son who have just moved to a small place in the north of Norway. It's the day before Jon's birthday, and a travelling carnival has come to the village. Jon goes out to sell lottery tickets for his sports club, and Vibeke is going to the library. From here on we follow the two individuals on their separate journeys through a cold winter's night - while a sense of uneasiness grows. Love illustrates how language builds its own reality, and thus how mother and son can live in completely separate worlds. This distance is found not only between human beings, but also within each individual. This novel shows how such distance may have fatal consequences.
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.50(d)|
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WHEN I GROW OLD, we'll go away on the train. As far away as we can. We'll look out through the windows, at fells and towns and lakes, and talk to people from foreign lands. We'll be together all the time. And forever be on our way.
She gets through three books a week, often four or five. She wishes she could read all the time, sitting in bed with the duvet pulled up, with coffee, lots of cigarettes, and a warm nightdress on. She could have done without the TV too, I never watch it, she tells herself, but Jon would have minded.
She gives a wide berth to an old woman waddling along pulling a grey trolley behind her on the icy road. It's dark, the snow banked up at the roadsides blocking out the light, Vibeke thinks to herself. Then she realizes she's forgotten to turn the headlights on and has driven nearly all the way home in an unlit car.
She turns them on.
Jon tries not to blink. It's hard for him not to. It's the muscles around his eyes that go into spasm. He kneels on his bed and peers through the window. Everything is still. He's waiting for Vibeke to come home. He tries to keep his eyes open and calm, fixed on the same spot outside the window. There must be at least a meter of snow. Under the snow live the mice. They have pathways and tunnels. They visit each other, Jon imagines, maybe they bring each other food.
The sound of the car. When he's waiting he can never quite recall it. I've forgotten, he tells himself. But then it comes back to him, often in pauses between the waiting, after he's stopped thinking about it. And then she comes, and he recognizes the sound in an instant; he hears it with his tummy, it's my tummy that remembers the sound, not me, he thinks to himself. And no sooner has he heard the car than he sees it too, from the corner of the window, her blue car coming around the bend behind the banks of snow, and she turns in at the house and drives up the little slope to the front door.
The engine is loud, its sound fills the room, and then she switches it off. He hears her slam the car door shut before the front door opens, and he counts the seconds until it closes again.
The same sounds every day.
Vibeke shoves the shopping into the hall and bends down to undo her boots. Her hands are swollen from the cold, the heater in the car is broken. A co-worker she gave a lift home from the supermarket last week said she knew someone who repaired things like that on the cheap. Vibeke smiles thinking back. She hasn't much money, and what little she has isn't for cars. As long as it gets her from A to B, that's all that matters.
She picks up the mail from the table under the mirror. She feels stiff, though no more than normal after a busy day, and stands for a moment, rolling her shoulders and stretching her neck, arching back and releasing a sigh.
Now she's taking her coat off, he thinks to himself, and pictures her in the hall, in front of the mirror, hanging her coat on the peg and looking at herself. She'll be tired, he thinks. He opens a box of matches and takes out two, snapping them in the middle and wedging them cautiously in his sockets to keep his eyelids from blinking.
You'll grow out of it, Vibeke tells him when she's in a good mood. The matches are like logs, it's hard to see out. He thinks about his train set; he can't help it, it doesn't matter what he thinks about, a train always comes running into his mind, tilting into the bend with its whistle blowing, hurtling by. Maybe he could give her a face massage, he thinks, rub her cheeks and forehead the way they've learnt in gym class, it's supposed to be good for you.
She carries the bags into the kitchen, dropping the mail down on the table before filling up the fridge and putting some tins away in the cupboard. The engineer in the building department, the dark-haired man with the brown eyes, sat opposite her at the Culture Plan presentation. Her first project as new arts and culture officer. The cover was in full color, she'd insisted on it, an inspirational painting by a local artist.
She lingers at the table, drinking water from a glass.
It went off well, people came up afterwards and said how glad they were to have her aboard. Her presence spurred new visions, they said, opened their eyes to new potentials. The brown-eyed engineer had smiled at her at several points during the presentation. In the Q&A session he made a comment about being interested in extending interdepartmental collaborations.
She sweeps her hair away from her face, gathering it in front of her shoulder and smoothing it with her hand, pleased at how long it's grown at last.
He hears her footsteps on the floor above. Her shoes. Vibeke always wears shoes indoors. Sandals with a low heel. He removes the matches. He strikes one against the box without blowing it out, wanting to hold it as long as it burns. Skirt and lipstick for work. At home she changes into a grey jogging suit with a zip neck. Maybe she's changing now. It's so soft inside, come and feel. She gave him slippers when they moved in. Brought them home with her after work, one of her first days on the job, wrapped in flowery paper. She tossed them to him, he had to catch them in mid-air. Woollen slippers, ankle-length, with leather soles. A metal clip to keep them closed. If the clips aren't done up, they rattle when he walks.
Vibeke puts the glass down on the table. She looks out the window, at the darkness outside. The street lamps are on, lighting up the road between the houses. To the north, the road through the village joins the highway again. It's a kind of circle, she thinks to herself, you can drive in to the village, past the council offices and the shops, through the housing area, then pick up the highway again further up, follow it south, and turn off toward the village again. Most of the houses have their living-room windows facing the road. We need to address architecture, she thinks, the way it can bring things together. The whole village backs onto forest. She jots down some keywords on a sheet of paper: Identity, pride. Aesthetics. Information.
She goes into the front room. On the sofa is a grey woollen throw with white circles on it, the reverse is white with grey circles. She gathers it up and pulls her armchair over to the panel heater under the window. She takes a book, nonfiction, from the small, round table.
The book has a waxed cover, it feels pleasant to the touch. She smoothes her left hand over its surface before opening the pages. She reads a few lines, then puts it down in her lap, leans back, closes her eyes. She sees faces from work, people stopping by her office, how nice it's looking now. She goes through situations in her mind, repeating her facial expressions and gestures.
Jon stands in the doorway looking at her. He tries not to blink. He wants to ask her something about his birthday, tomorrow he'll be nine. He tells himself it can wait, she's asleep now. A book in her lap. He's used to seeing her like that. A book, the bright light of the floor lamp. Often, she'll have lit a cigarette and his eyes will follow the smoke as it curls toward the ceiling. Her long, dark hair fans out over the back of the chair, trembling almost imperceptibly. Stroke my hair, Jon.
He turns and goes out into the kitchen, and takes some biscuits from the cupboard. He puts a whole one in his mouth and tries to suck it soft without breaking it.
He goes down the stairs into his room again and kneels on the bed. He lines the biscuits up on the windowsill.
He looks at the snow outside and thinks of all the snowflakes that go to make a pile. He tries to count how many, in his head. They talked about it at school today. Ice crystals, they're called. No two are ever the same. How many can there be in a snowball? Or on the window pane, in a small speck of snow?
VIBEKE OPENS HER EYES. Through the big windows of the living room she can see the red tail lights of a car as it disappears down the road. She thinks of who it might be, her mind runs through everyone she knows. The engineer, she thinks, perhaps it was him.
She sits up and looks at the time, then goes out into the kitchen, puts some water on the boil and chops half an onion. When the water boils she takes the saucepan off the ring and drops some sausages in it along with the rest of the onion. She turns the radio on. There's an interview program on, but she doesn't listen. The voices make a kind of melody, changing back and forth. She tidies a dish away from the table. There are some bits left along the rim, some dregs of milk at the bottom. She's still got her short skirt on, she's had it for years, but it falls so becomingly around her bottom and thighs. The sheer stockings are a luxury she allows herself. Most people dress to suit the weather. Thick tights, often another pair on top that they take off in the toilets when they get there. Life's too short not to be dressing nice, she thinks to herself. I'd rather be cold.
She rinses the dish under the tap, using the washing-up brush to remove the bits that are stuck. Jon likes to eat when he comes home from school. Biscuits or cornflakes. Sometimes he'll listen to the radio while he's eating and forget to switch it off. More than once when coming in from work she's heard voices in the kitchen and thought they had visitors.
The interview program's finished, now they're playing a song and she knows the group, their name's on the tip of her tongue, but she can't for the life of her call it to mind. She feels the lure of sitting with a good book, a big thick one of the kind that leave an impression stronger and realer than life itself.
I deserve it, she tells herself, after how well I'm doing at work.
Jon sits down. The bed is next to the heater underneath the window. When he lies down he can feel the warmth all the way down his side. Up against the wall by the head of the bed is a set of shelves painted blue with various things on them: a radio, magazines, a roll of sticky tape, a torch, a water pistol. He presses a button on the radio and turns the dial until he finds some music. He tries to pick out the different instruments. Ghostly guitars, he thinks to himself. He heard someone say so once. Ghostly guitars.
He lies down on the bed and closes his eyes. He thinks that when he's not thinking about anything it must be completely dark inside his head; like in a big room when the light's switched off.
The name of the group comes back to her. Of course, she says to herself. A scene from a party after exams: another student, younger than she, his hair in a ponytail, they danced to that same song; he stood there with his arms around her from behind, grinding his hips in a way she supposed was actually quite vulgar.
She gets a packet of flatbread wraps from the cupboard, and a fork to pick up the sausages, pops her head around the door and calls for Jon, finds a mat for the saucepan and puts it down on the table. She thinks of lighting a candle and rummages in a drawer, but they must have run out. What's he doing? She calls for him again, from the staircase this time. When he doesn't answer she goes down to his room.
He's playing basketball with some other boys in a dream. The sun's out, it's hot, and all his shots go in. He feels elated and runs inside to tell Vibeke. She comes quietly out of the kitchen. He starts to tell her, but the way she smiles is so strange he turns away to go to his room. At the elbow of the staircase he meets a woman who looks exactly like her. She whispers softly, coaxing him toward her. As he steps into her arms, a third woman comes up the stairs. Maybe she's Vibeke. He halts and stands there, without moving a muscle.
He wakes up and sees Vibeke standing in the door, the light all around her. She says the dinner's ready.
Jon goes upstairs after her. They sit down at the kitchen table. Vibeke turns the radio off. She sifts through the mail while they eat. Jon sees it's mostly advertising, from furniture chains and big supermarkets. There's a flyer with a caption that says funfair. He asks what else it says. Vibeke reads it out, there's a travelling funfair at the sports ground next to the council offices, they've got a spaceship ride and a gravity wheel. It won't be for you, she says. He asks if they've got 3D games. She doesn't know what they are. Space games, that sort of thing, he says, computer games where you're inside and you've got to steer your way through space and overcome all kinds of obstacles. Vibeke reads through the flyer again. It doesn't say.
He looks at her as she carries on eating and sifting through the ads. He hears the snap as she bites through the tight skin of her sausage.
Jon's ready for another one. They pile up inside his tummy like logs in the forest, there's always room for one more.
A path into the forest, from a long-forgotten place. Find the path and follow, its ribbon yours to trace. Past trees and hillocks wander, to a splendid castle old, in whose halls three ladies fine you shall at last behold. The prince they there await, ifever he should come. A song they sing to pass the time, a lonely, plaintive hum. "What was it like there?" she always wanted to know after the princess had been carried away to an unfamiliar castle. Tell me, Jon. He remembers sitting on her lap and describing to her the great, empty halls with their open windows and long, flowing curtains. Candles and soft rugs. You know just how I like it, Jon, she would say. I'm so happy in big, bright rooms.
He looks out the window. In the house across the road lives an old man. His driveway isn't cleared like the others because he hasn't got a car. Instead, he scrapes a narrow path through the snow with a spade. When he goes to the shops he uses a kicksled. It takes time, Jon's seen the way he stops and sits down on the seat to rest. He hasn't seen him out these last few days. It must be too cold. The path's almost buried again. The woman from the shop was there in her little car. She left the engine running as she highstepped through the snow up to the house. Jon watched her pass a pair of carrier bags through the crack of the door before cantering back down the slope to the car in the road.
Vibeke looks at her hand as she reaches out to take another wrap. Her fingers are long, her eyes trace the sinews on the back of her hand. The inside air makes her skin dry, Spenol moisturiser is the only thing that helps. Then there's her nails. And her hair, too. The cold dries it out.
The town's not far from the village, yet it feels like an age since last she was there. She tries to remember when it was. Stop that, Jon. Just over a week ago. Saturday before last. The bookshop, of course. What else? She and Jon had cake in that no-smoking place. How awful it was, a plastic tearoom. That town needs a café with some thought-out design, it's like a house without a proper entrance. Stop it, Jon. It's been a while since I bought myself some clothes, she thinks to herself. She could do with a new outfit, she deserves it, with the move and everything. Stop screwing your eyes up like that all the time, Jon, you look like a mouse. She thinks of a narrow, plain skirt in beige she once saw a woman wearing at a seminar.
Jon looks at a picture on the wall by the window, an aerial photo of the village in a black frame. It was there when they moved in. He studies it while munching another sausage. The road is a straight line. Although it's an old photo and the colors have started to fade, there's no difference between then and now, apart from everything being newer when the photo was taken. He tries to think ofwho lives in the various houses, but the only ones he knows are where someone from his class lives. If he stares long enough at the photo they'll come out of the houses and start moving about like in a cartoon.
One of the boys in his class got a jet-fighter kit for his birthday two weeks ago. Jon wants a train set. Marklin. He only needs a few parts to start with, a length of track and hopefully an engine.
In his school bag is a book of raffle tickets for the sports club. When he's finished his dinner he'll go around the houses he can see in the photo to sell some tickets.
Excerpted from "Love"
Copyright © 1997 Forlaget Oktober A/S.
Excerpted by permission of archipelago books.
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