In his hotel room on Tuesday morning the fire alarm went. Lars Saabye Christensen debated what to take with him; laptop, shoes or photo of lovely wife? As he descended to reception he wondered why everyone was so calm. Seems they test the alarm every Tuesday.
Well, it beats possibly cooking your grandfather day in and day out. Maybe.
Lars visited Manchester Literature Festival on Tuesday, and I’m hoping you’ve never heard of him either. Me, I’ll blame it on having left Sweden in 1982, so a Norwegian author published after that is unlikely to feature on my – possibly narrow – horizon. I asked Lars afterwards if he gets recognised in the street. Yes he does. And all that attention can get tedious.
Well, when it gets too much he can just come over here where we will be cynically cool the British way. And also we’ve never heard of him. But from what I learned yesterday I think it would be a good idea if a few more people did get to know Lars and his books. After his talk I abandoned several of my principles in one fell swoop. I don’t spend money on books, if I can help it. Decided to buy. Have no time to read more, especially not 600 page novels. So I bought two. (Sorry, boss.) I prefer to read in the original. So I got two translated books.
There you go.
A hardy group of book fans gathered in Manchester’s Town Hall at lunch time to hear Lars talk about his novel Beatles, now recently translated into English after 25 years of success in Norway. Apparently Lars is (one of?) Norway’s most popular author, and Beatles is a significant and important book.
He read an excerpt from the English translation, stumbling a little on some of the words. Lars then read in Norwegian which he did absolutely perfectly. A poem about tightropes that end halfway along, which doesn’t sound a good idea. And we get the cooking of grandpa from Beatles, which has to do with India, but I won’t go into more detail here. You could always buy the book and read it yourself.
Like all Norwegians Knut Hamsun played a big part as inspiration for his writing, and whether you like Hamsun or not, you can’t avoid his influence. Hamsun is the reference frame for all Norwegian writing after him. According to Lars, if Hamsun had had a decent English translator we wouldn’t think of him as a Nazi first and foremost. He reckons translators are literary ambassadors, and they can do what they like to his books as long as they keep the basic feel to the story.
And I hope you have worked out what happened then? Lars (and the rest of us) experienced the day’s second fire alarm, so out we went. You can empty the impressive Town Hall impressively fast, even with tired bookwitches carting birthday cakes around. The only thing Lars forgot was his hat, which the moderator picked up for him. And then we had ten minutes in Albert Square (no, not that Albert Square) before they sent us all back in again.
The moderator wanted to move on to questions, but Lars needed to talk fire alarms for a while first. He thinks we need more of them. His Leonard Cohen bomb alert caused him to meet his wife (Which I secretly thought was very convenient indeed. Just think if he’d met someone else’s wife.)
The Beatles book almost didn’t survive an early trip to Paris, many years ago, disappearing in a suitcase on the plane home. The – temporary – loss of his only handwritten manuscript got Lars started on writing his next book, but the characters have become his own universe. (I take this to mean they recur in several novels.)
‘Do I talk too much?’ he asked as our time was nearly up. Well, he did talk quite a bit, but it’s nice when people go off on a tangent and tell us unexpected stuff.
Then we flocked to the buying table, after which we queued up for our books to be signed. All but the Norwegian fan who already had her well worn Norwegian paperback. After that lovely encounter, a Swedish bookwitch isn’t much to write home about.
And Lars – your English is not ‘lousy’. Most authors can’t do events in another language.