Not a psychodrama, more of a moral discussion…

Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad

Translated by Agnes Scott Langeland

I read this book on Christmas Eve for reasons which will soon become clear.

Norwegian author Dag Solstad’s third work to be translated into English is a short novel that can be read in a single sitting. From the blurb on the back cover, you immediately expect a Scandicrime story reminiscent of Hitchcock’s film Rear Window, a psychodrama if you will.

It was Christmas Eve and Professor Andersen had a Christmas tree in the living room. He stared at it. ‘Well, I must say,’ he thought. ‘Yes indeed, I must say.’ Then he turned and ambled round the living room, while he listened to the Christmas carols on TV. ‘Yes, I must say,’ he repeated.

The first few pages of scene-setting establish Professor Andersen as an educated man in his mid-fifties who lives alone. He’s a non-believer who enjoys Christmas, and as he’s letting himself be infused with Christmas spirit, he looks out of his window and sees a man strangle a woman in an apartment over the road.

This violent act shocks the Professor into stasis – he doesn’t report it immediately, he doesn’t report it later either, and his dilemma deepens. Then one day he finds himself sitting next to the murderer in a Sushi bar …

This, in a nutshell is the story – indeed, we’re told the entire plot in the blurb on the back cover, so I haven’t given anything away.  This short novel turns out not to be the Hitchcockian thriller I’d anticipated; instead it’s an exploration of fears and anxieties, the uncertainties of middle-age and emotional stasis.

The Professor agonises over his non-action. He plans to ask his best friend’s advice, but can’t. Used to living a quiet and controlled life, a good life, (he likes life’s little luxuries like good whisky and Italian suits), this man finds it impossible to let his self-restraint go.  Although appalled by what he had seen, he doesn’t believe it, he tries to rationalise it away, then internalise it, separating himself from the rest of the world. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it triggers a mid-life crisis of self-doubt.

Solstad is hailed as one of Norway’s leading writers. This is the first work of his that I have read, and it has a distinct style. It is written in very long paragraphs, the shortest is typically one page, but generally they are several pages long, and don’t necessarily seem to begin and end where you’d expect either.  There are no concessions to indents for speech, it all flows into the long paragraphs; unlike Saramago though, he does use speech marks.

This style rather matched the Professor; but, although I could sympathise with his predicament whatever the moral outcome, I never really warmed to him, and I found this philosophical novel just too dry and navel-gazing for me. (6/10)

For another review, see Winston’s Dad.

Source: Own copy. Vintage paperback, 2012, 154 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

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