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Cecilie Løveid: Sug (Sea Swell)

When Cecilie Løveid was writing her novels in the 1970s the dominant novel form in Norway was social realism. Løveid turned to a more modernistic approach, based in part on her interest in art and poetry. Though this novel does have a plot, as the flyleaf warns us, at first glance it looks like poetry. She uses imagery, often very visual, rather than tell her story in the conventional way. Some of her story-telling is relatively straightforward, some of it is fantasy, imagining things that might happen or have happened, and some of it is pure imagery, both visual but also her thoughts and feelings from her subconscious explained in a poetical way. As her character says I haven’t decided whether I’m going to be a story-teller or a realist though it is certainly more the former than the latter.

Our heroine is Kjersti Gilje. Her father was a sea captain. What may be real – it is never clear what is real and what is imagined – is that he told her sea tales. However, we have two accounts of his old age, though not mutually exclusive. Firstly, he turned up to visit Kjersti and her mother and they had not seen him for twenty years. We also see her visiting him in a hospital for the blind, his sight apparently having been damaged in a fire on board a ship. For some reason she pretends to be the new cook.More interesting is her semi-erotic fantasy about her swimming with him, where the two behave like lovers, not father and daughter.

Her other key relationship is with Matt Oding, whom she meets at a party. He is married to Ellie and has two children. He takes Kjersti home but then phones her later as his wife has thrown him out and he has nowhere to stay. She decides she wants to be with him till they are both very old but it does not work out. He phones Ellie continually. She threatens to kill herself and the children if he does not come back.

Kjersti and Matt do have one thing in common – music. He plays the horn and she sings soprano and they perform in various churches. She has a miscarriage and things go downhill.

We next met her when she is staying with her friend Monica, a ceramic artist. (Monica’s grandfather had been a refugee and had become an artists). Both women feel alone and want someone in their lives. Kersti then gets it into her head that she doesn’t ever want to see a man again and even attempts suicide.

However, while the plot is interesting if fairly conventional, it is her divergences that make the book. The best may well be when she imagines going back to her past in an imaginary time machine but with her past as a museum, where she reviews episodes in her life as static displays. However, throughout the book she will continually go off on sidetracks giving us painterly images (Løveid studied art and did paint) as well as poetic thoughts and images.

This book certainly takes us away from standard social realism for, though there is a plot, it is the imagery that sticks in the mind and, of course, makes us look beyond the story line, Kjersti ends up feeing she is better off with Monica rather than the men she has had in her life, which may be the message of the book.

Publishing history

First published in 1979 by Gyldendal
First published in English in 1986 by Quartet
Translated by Nadia Christensen