Kjersti Skomsvold: Jo fortere jeg går, jo mindre er jeg (The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am)
Our narrator is Mathea Martinsen. She is, as the French say, of a certain age, but we do not know what that age is only that I’ve lived longer than all the tired limbs and busy hands of the people in today’s obituaries, though she later says I’m almost a hundred. We know that she was an only child and, apart from her parents, the only relatives she knew were her father’s aunt and uncle. She lost touch with them after her parents died but she later learned that both had died, Aunt Asta died for no apparent reason.
She is married to Epsilon, who is a professional statistician. His favourite reading is the statistics yearbooks, of which he has every issue of, except the 1880 one. (We learn later why he no longer has the 1880 one.) He will read them in the evening and regale his wife with some interesting but useless statistic. (Before we went to sleep, Epsilon read to me about standard deviations and confidence intervals.)
The couple have no children but did have a dog, Stein. He was our substitute child, since no matter how hard we tried, I couldn’t get pregnant. Stein died. She pretended to Epsilon that he committed suicide but, in fact, as we learn, she inadvertently caused his death. They have not had another dog since. She did persuade Epsilon to buy her a rabbit but it did not even last a day. I just love animals she said. “Almost as much as Hitler did.
At one time Mathea thought she was pregnant, as she had put on weight and had not had her period for three months but it was a false alarm. This, of course, makes her even more depressed.
Mathea is a loner. She has no friends or relatives nor does she get on with the neighbours. She does not even get on with the next-door neighbour, who rarely comes out ever since her husband ran off with the accountant downstairs. The neighbour does have an adult son, called June. Actually, he is called Rune but his mother mispronounces his name as June. Since his father’s departure, when he was still a child, he has not been very sociable. When she tells Epsilon that she is the funniest person she knows, he replies that she does not know anyone except him. One day she intends to write I alone am Mathea as she does not know any other Matheas, but inadvertently writes I Mathea am alone.
She had always been a loner as a child. At school , she was always on her own and more than once the teacher essentially forgot she existed. The only time she got some attention was when she was struck by lightning – twice. It burned off her eyebrows but she soon recovered from it. Soon after a boy actually approached her and asked her what it was like. He tells her that the chances of being struck by lightning are infinitesimal. He is Epsilon.
Death seems to be an obsession for both of them. Her favourite reading in the newspaper is the obituary section. On one of the rare occasions when he is not reading about statistics, he is reading Schopenhauer on death. Her parents die, her great- aunt and great-uncle die. The dog dies. The rabbit dies. The building caretaker dies (and is not replaced till later). She imagines that she is left alone in the flat and, when she dies, no-one discovers her body for some while.
She rarely goes out but when she does, she hopes that there are a lot of people around, so she will merge into the crowd. Occasionally she goes to the library but only reads the last few pages of a book so she can tell Epsilon that she had read it. Otherwise she stays at home and watches TV.
She did once have a job. When Epsilon got his first job, his boss needed a cleaner and he suggested she take up the job. She lasted barely a day. She has not worked since.
She plans to bury a time capsule in a garden area between her building and the next one. Initially, we do not know what is in it, apart from the piece of paper with I Mathea am alone on it and some of her spit on it, so that she leaves a trace of her DNA. However she tells us later what she put in it.
There are opportunities for social interactions. On one occasion she actually goes to the Christmas party at Epsilon’s workplace but it does not work out. There are also events in her building. June has a party. The new caretaker is finally appointed and he organises events. She does not attend any one of them. She does go once to a Senior Citizens get-together but that does not work out well, either.
Mathea is clearly a sad case but she seems to struggle on. She has few interests, apart from watching TV. She has no friends and seemingly does not want any. She is fortunate in having a good husband but he seems to be something of a loner, too. She struggles with basic tasks – shopping, using the phone, any social interaction, even opening jam jars. In short she struggles with life. While there is certainly an element of humour in this book, on the whole we can only feel sorry for Mathea as we listen to her story and hear her tell us I’m just as afraid of living life as I am of dying.
First published 2009 by Oktober
First published in English in 2011 by Dalkey Archive Press
Translated by Kerri A Pierce