Sunday, 29 March 2009

Jon Fosse - "Morgon og kveld"

Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse will be 50 this year. He is one of the more visible writers in Norway, and acclaimed internationally as a playwright.

His short poetic novel from 2000 is called Morgon og kveld (Morn and Eve) and is gently experimental. It tells, in two parts, of the birth and the dying days of the protagonist, a fisherman. The first part, told by a third-person narrator, forms one seventh of the 116-page novel, and describes how the father, Olai, is waiting around rather helplessly as the old midwife Anna helps his wife Marta to give birth to his son Johannes. This son's mid-life is passed over, and when we meet Johannes again, he himself is the narrator, so the novel ends in mid-sentence.

In her review, critic
Anne Lise Jomisko notes various things about this novel. Firstly that there are no full-stops in the whole book. Secondly that many descriptions are of daily routines. And that there are repetitions, as the reader can see from the excerpt below. This is a way of writing a novel that brings to the fore the words, the writing, as much as the plot or storyline.

The excerpt from the start of the novel shows the main two styles of the novel: short and pithy dialogue, and long stream of consciousness passages. The whole of the last paragraph here, for instance, continues and takes up pages 9-17 of the novel. This is still a draft; some of the shifting of tenses in the long passages are a challenge to the translator.

Morgon og kveld (Morn and Eve)

by Jon Fosse

More hot water, says the old midwife Anna

No, don’t stand there hanging around in the kitchen doorway, man, she says

No, no, says Olai

and he feels heat and cold spreading across his skin among the goose pimples and a joy goes right through him and emerges as tears in his eyes as he rushes off to the stove and starts to ladle steaming water into a long wooden bowl so that there will be enough, yes, thinks Olai and he ladles even more water into the bowl and he can hear the midwife Anna saying that there must be enough now, that’ll be enough now, she says and Olai looks up and there the old midwife Anna is, standing behind him and she picks up the bowl

I can carry it myself, says midwife Anna

and a muffled shriek can be heard form the room and Olai looks old midwife Anna in the eye and nods and even gives a big grin as he stands there

Be patient, will you, says the old midwife Anna

If it’s a boy, he’ll be called Johannes says Olai

We’ll have to see, says midwife Anna

Johannes, yes, says Olai

After my father, he says

No, there’s nothing wrong with that name, says the old midwife Anna
and another shriek, louder, freer now

Be patient, will you, Olai, says the old midwife Anna

Be patient, she says

Do you hear what I say? she says

Be patient, she says

You’re a fisherman, you know that there must be any women on board, don’t you? she says

Yes, yes, says Olai

And maybe it’s the same with men, you know what I’m getting at? says the old midwife Anna

Yes, a mishap, says Olai

Yes exactly, a mishap, says the old midwife Anna

and Olai sees the old midwife Anna go straight towards the door to the room holding the bowl of hot water in front of her, arms straight, and the old midwife Anna stops in the doorway and turns round towards Olai

Don’t just stand there, says the old midwife Anna

and Olai gives a start, is he standing there and unintentionally spreading mishap? no he didn’t mean to do so and if things go wrong with both loving and honouring Marta, his darling, his wife, then they will, no I can’t happen like that

You, Olai, leave the kitchen door alone and go and sit down on your chair, says the old midwife Anna

and Olai sits down at the end of the kitchen table and places his elbows on the table and rests his head in his hands and it was a good thing he’d taken Magda to his brother’s that day, thinks Olai, and when he was on his way to fetch the old midwife Anna, he first rowed over to his brother’s with Magda and didn’t know if he’d done the right thing, because Magda will soon be a grown up woman, Magda as well, the years pass quickly, but Marta asked him to do so, when she was about to give birth and he was to row out to fetch the old midwife Anna and must take Magda with him, so she could be at his brother’s while the birth took place, she was too young to know exactly what was awaiting her as adult woman, is what Marta had said to him and he had obviously to do what she said, even though he would so gladly have had Magda at his side right now, she’d been a clever and sensible girl as long as he could remember and good at everything she does, I’ve certainly got a good daughter, thinks Olai, but it didn’t look as if the Lord God would bless you with more children and the years passed by and after you had resigned yourself to the fact that there were not going to be more children, that’s how it was, that was their fate they said and they should thank the Lord their God as he had given them Magda, for if they hadn’t have had her, then it would have been sad for them here on Holmen where they had settled and where he himself had built the house and his brothers and neighbours had helped but he’d done most of the work himself and when he was courting Marta he had bought Holmen, which was going for a song and he’d thought it all out, where his home would be built, in a calm spot in the lee for wind and weather, and where it would stand, and he’d also thought about where the boathouse and the jetty would be, but it didn’t end up there, and the first he built was the jetty and built it in a quiet bay turned in towards the land, well in the lee for wind and weather there on the west side of Holmen, yes, and then the house itself got built, not so big and beautiful perhaps, and now Marta was lying there in the little room and would at last give birth to a son, now little Johannes was going to be born, he was sure of that, thought Olai as he sat there at the kitchen table, on his chair, and rested his head in his hands, as long as things didn’t go wrong, as long as Marta gave birth to the child, as long as little Johannes was alright in her belly and as long as both Marta and little Johannes can stand the pain, as long as it didn’t go with Marta like on that terrible day with his mother, no, he couldn’t bear the thought, thinks Olai, because they’ve had a good time together, Olai and Marta, love at first sight, thinks Olai, but now? will Marta be taken away from him? is God so angry with him? alright if He wants to, but it’s just as likely to be Satan who rules this world as it is the good Lord, Olai had never had any doubts about that


Translated from Norwegian (nynorsk) by Eric Dickens

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