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Jon Fosse: Kvitleik (A Shining)

This is the first Fosse novel newly published in English translation since he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2023. It is a very short novel. Like other Fosse books, we have a lone male as our protagonist. We do not know his name or, indeed, much about him,except that he lives on his own. He has decided to go out in his car and, with no specific destination in mind, he has chosen to take the first right, then the next left, then the next right and so on. He has ended up on a remote forest track, passing only one abandoned farmstead, and now his car has got stuck and he cannot move it.

He is anxious but also hungry as he does not seem to have had a proper meal for several days. But the problem is getting help. It is a long way down the forest track and then, as far as he can remember, there were very few houses on the road. What was I doing on this forest road. Why did I drive into the forest on it. What kind of idea was that.

He has another problem. It is getting dark and cold. However he sees a path into the forest and wonders if that might lead to some kind of habitation. He heads up the path and sees a rock on which he can sit. Maybe that was exactly why I walked into the forest, because I wanted to freeze to death. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to die. Or is that exactly what I do want. But why do I want to die. That’s exactly what I don’t want, and that’s why I want to find my car again so I can warm up.

Just as he is about to move he sees something/someone approach him. It is the eponymous shining. Neither he nor we know what it is but it seems to be some shining light in more or less human form. I looked at the shining presence, surrounded by darkness, and now it was shining white within the outline I saw first. Everything inside the outline was now a shining whiteness too. It seems to touch him and even to merge with him. He now realises he has his eyes closed. When he opens them the shining has gone.

Was it a ghost or perhaps an angel, good or bad? Evil angels are angels of light too, maybe all angels radiate white, both the good ones and the evil ones.

By this time it is snowing. He then he hears someone talking. It is dark but he cannot see who it is or even where exactly they are. He tries talking back but there is no response and, anyway, he is getting very cold. But there is someone there, more than one person, and he can communicate with them. But are they real? Are they dangerous? And can they help get out of the forest and back to civilisation?

We do not learn anything about our narrator except that he lives on his own. Is he divorced or widowed? Does he have friends or family? We do not know? And what is the shining? A ghost? An angel? Something he simply imagines? Or is it a form of death leading him to the underworld? And who are the others he meets and what are they doing in the forest? Are they friendly, helpful and real or are they figments of his imagination or guardians leading him to the place where the dead go?

As always, Fosse’s tale is sparse. We do not get all the details and things are often left unexplained. We have no names nor indeed any location excerpt for the forest which is presumably in Norway.

But, as always with Fosse, we get a thoroughly original and imaginative tale. While we might not get all the answers, we do get a short but fine tale, which can only confirm that he was well deserving of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

First published in 2023 by Det Norske samlaget
First published in English in 2023 byTransit (US)/Fitzcarraldo (UK)
Translated by Damion Searls