Finn Carling: Under aftenhimmelen (Under the Evening Sky)
Not really a novel but more a series of connected stories with a linking theme. Robert Turner, apparently a well-to-do art collector and man about town meets Joseph Frost, who is not Joseph Frost but a Dane called Mogens Klint who may or may not be dying of a fatal disease. They meet by chance in a restaurant”on an island in the Aegean Sea.” (The cover of my copy shows Santorini.) Turner, the Englishman, who is far more pushy, makes Frost/Klint agree that they will eat together during the stay and, while eating, tell each other stories, with complete frankness, omitting nothing, which they proceed to do. It is soon apparent that both are telling tales from their own lives, real or imaginary. Turner tells the story of how he was hanged, allegedly for killing his wife which, he claims, he did not do, but somehow survived and got away. He also tells the story of the young girl who seduces her brother and then makes him kill himself à la Romeo and Juliet. Other stories are in a similar vein – gruesome and concerned with death.
Frost, who soon recognises that he is not Frost and then once again feels he is Frost, is much less forward and arrogant than Turner. He tells the story of a sad man, virtually ignored by his wife and two teenage children. This man tries to make it look as though he murdered a woman whom he clearly did not murder. He tells the story of the friend who is clearly at the end of his tether but, while listening kindly to the friend’s complaint, he shows no real interest in him either at that time or later. In short, Klint is a man totally detached from the world. The theme of both men’s stories is death, decay, isolation and full existential angst.
However, there is more to Carling’s story. For life is also about appearances and stories are just appearances. Are the stories true? Maybe they contain elements of truth but clearly are exaggerated or faked in some way. However, it is certain that the two men are not true. We have already seen that Frost is not Frost and may or may not be dying (though we do know that he makes up the name of the disease he has.) However, we learn at the end that Turner is a fake. He is not an art collector but quite likely an art thief (having stolen paintings from the Tate Gallery). It seems that the name Turner was not chosen accidentally.
First published 1985 by Gyldendal
First published in English in 1990 by Peter Owen
Translated by Louis A Muinzer