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Jon Fosse: Morgon og kveld (Morning and Evening)

We first meet Johannes as he is being born. His mother, Marta, and father Olai had an almost grown-up daughter, Magda, but wanted a son. It looked like it was not going to happen and then, finally, Marta was pregnant again. Olai was determined it would be a boy and he would name him after his father, Johannes. We actually get his reactions as he is being born: it hurts this light this these movements this that breathing this it all goes in and out.

We next meet Johannes when he is old and a widower, stiff and sore, finding it difficult getting out of bed in the morning. We learn that his beloved wife, Erna, has died a while ago. He has seven adult children (and grandchildren) but his favourite is his youngest daughter Signe, who has three children with her husband Leif, like Johannes and others in the area, a fisherman.

Johannes is comfortably off , thanks to the social security system, but is feeling his age and misses not only Erna but his good friend, Peter, who died a while ago. Everything was so much better before when Erna was alive not to mention when Peter was alive. He follows the same routine every day – walking and, if the weather is fine, maybe out on the boat to do a bit of fishing. Signe visits or phones most days.

However, on this day, as he gets up, he suddenly feels no pain, as he normally does. Also, unusually, he does not crave a cigarette. He gets up and, for the first time for a while, he looks into his shed. He sees his bike has a flat tyre, which he plans to repair later. He leaves the shed but then a voice tells him to go back, which he does . He looks around and then he thinks that everything is somehow what it is and at the same time different. It seems that things have become somehow dignified and golden and heavy as though they weighed much more than themselves and at the same time had no weight.

We learn about his earlier years, including how he and Peter first met their respective wives, about his financial struggles bringing up seven children on a fisherman’s earnings, about his friendship with Peter, about how he nearly drowned (he could not swim) and about the house he still lives in.

He sets off for a walk and, to his surprise, he meets Peter down by the shore. He tries to attract Peter’s attention and even throws a couple of stones at him but they seem to go straight through Peter. Peter offers to take him out fishing and they set off but when Johannes throws the lure in the water it will not sink but floats. They dock in the town and Peter says he has his usual bag of crabs for old Miss Pettersen, though Johannes was sure that she had died a year or two ago. To Johannes’ surprise, there seems to be nobody around and nobody buying crabs. A young Anna Pettersen comes and Johannes remembers how he was attracted to her.

Peter takes him back home and, as they set off, they see Old Miss Pettersen come and pick up her bags of crabs. When walking back, Johannes sees Signe. he calls out to her but she does not seem to notice him. Indeed, she seems very preoccupied and worried. So he decides to go to Peter’s house and wait for him there.

This a first-class novel from Fosse as Johannes is born and then, many years later , we follow the old, tired widower on a day when everything is the same and everything is different. He ends up on the boat with Peter. Where are we going? Johannes asks. We are not going anywhere is the answer.

First published in 2000 by Det Norske Samlaget
First published in English in 2015 by Dalkey Archive Press
Translated by Damion Searls