Thursday, November 18, 2010
The Half Brother
Just about the time when Scandinavian mystery novels were starting to set the world on fire, a regular old non-mystery and therefore under the radar Norwegian novel, The Half Brother was published here in the U.S. This wonderfully chubby (really it's uber chubby at almost 800 pages) novel, winner of the 2001 Nordic Prize, is the story of 4 generations of an extended Norwegian family. The Oslo's are a family of drunks, con-artists, mutes and charmers all able to stumble through life seemingly only because of their ability to lie and accept lies.
Author Lars Saabye Christensen excels at continually bringing both the family's and Norway's past into play in their present. Over the course of fifty years big events, odd coincidences, things that barely register to the reader at the time come back later to reek havoc on the various members of the bedeviled Oslo family. At the heart of this sprawling family saga is the relationship between brothers Fred and Barnum. These men are outsiders even within their family but they are wholly devoted to each other in their own ways.
The Half Brother is superbly constructed. It leads you eerily full circle showing how history runs in families. Author Christensen's picturesque characters and haunting narrative are a great mix of tragedy and black comedy. If you like your families odd in a good, twenty years ago John Irving kind of way, your novels fleshy and dexterous in a Henry James kind of way and your landscape Scandinavian then The Half Brother will bring you much happiness. However if you only like novels that are monstrously well written then The Half Brother will bring you much more happiness.
Happy am I