Jon Fosse: Trilogien (Trilogy)
As the title tells us, this is a collection of three novellas. They are novellas but they are linked not only to one another but to other Fosse works and, as this is Fosse, the connections are are not always straightforward. If you have read Det er Ales (Aliss at the Fire), Naustet (Boathouse) and (Septolgien (The Septology) (link is to the first one; despite the name, there are only three in English), you will recognise plot elements, characters and places. However you can read and enjoy this trilogy even if you have never read Fosse before.
We start off with Asle and Alida in the first story. Asle has been living in a boathouse. Is it the boathouse of the book of that title? Maybe or maybe not. What we know is that his father disappeared at sea one day as happened to Ales in Det er Ales (Aliss at the Fire). Apart from mentioning that Alse may or may not be one of the Alses we find in the Septology, I will make no further comparisons between this collection and his other books but will show how these three novellas are linked to one another.
When we first meet Asle and Alida, they have just arrived in Bjørgvin, the Old Norse name for Bergen, which Fosse uses for Bergen or a Bergen-like place. They are carrying all their belongings. They are both seventeen. Asle’s mother had recently died. Alida lives with her mother and sister. The father is long since gone. Oline, Alida’s sister, is the favourite. Asle and Alida met when he was playing fiddle at a wedding. His father and grandfather were also fiddle players, both long since dead. Once his mother died, the owner of the boathouse tells him to leave. The matter is complicated by the fact that Alida is visibly pregnant.
However, getting away to Bjørgvin and surviving till Asle can find work, if he can find work, is not straightforward. They need a means of transport and money, neither of which either of them has. His parents left nothing and her mother is not likely to help but, by somewhat dubious means, they procure both and we find them in Bjørgvin.
Unfortunately, knocking at doors looking for lodging is not successful, as people have no space, do not rent rooms or are put off by Alida’s condition. Again, by dubious means, they do find somewhere to stay and they also find a midwife as Alida has gone into labour. She has a baby boy named after Asle’s father, Sigvald.
The next novella – Olav’s Dreams focuses on Olav and Åsta, who seem remarkably similar to Asle and Alida. We join Olkav as he is walking to Bjørgvin on an errand, the nature of which we only learn later. Åsta had warned him against going as she has a premonition something terrible will happen if he does. En route he sees an Old Man ahead, walking much slower but does not want to pass him because then the man would look at him and perhaps the man would talk to him too and perhaps he would recognise him. The man will accost him and will accost him again several times once they have both reached Bjørgvin. Who is the man and how does he get to Bjørgvin before Olav despite the fact that Olav overtakes him and the man is a slow walker? And who is the girl who accosts him later and what is her relationship with the Old Man? And can he afford to buy the bracelet he want to buy for Åsta? And what is his relationship, if any, with Asle?
The third novella (Wakefulness) moves well ahead in time. Here we meet Ales (not to be confused with Asle). She is the daughter of Alida and though Alida is long since dead, not for the only time in a Fosse novel, the deceased Alida still lives with Ales and talks to her. Ales’ father is not Asle but Åsleik and we learn about how he came into the picture and what happened to Sigvald, Alida’s son by Asle. Asle, though long since dead, also puts in an appearance.
As always with Fosse, this is a strange collection. All three are linked, all three feature odd events, all three feature dead people and all three are told in Fosse’s almost stream-of-consciousness style, though told in the third person. However, as always, with Fosse, we may not always be clear what is going on but there is undoubtedly something magical about his tale-telling.
First published together in 2004 by Det Norske samlaget
Andvak (Wakefulness) was first published in 2007, Olavs draumar (Olav’s Dreams) in 2012), and Kvldsvaevd (Weariness)in 2014
First published in English in 2016 byDalkey Archive
Translated byMay-Brit Akerholt