Overall, this is a beautifully written tale of remembrance and re-evaluation, full of great little details, and entirely happy to tell them at its own pace. While the core structure of an elderly - and male - narrator looking back over his life is a fairly standard trope, the novel distinguishes itself in the quality of its writing and its supple avoidance of the usual clichés. On the former point, the translator is to be commended for the care she's taken in getting what are at times quite subtle passages into lovely English prose. On the latter, I really quite liked the way that the author surprised me throughout by gradually filling out the story and backstory without ever doing so bluntly or obviously.
That said, it's definitely one of those novels where, at the end, I'm not really sure what it's about. Sure, I get that the narrator is piecing elements of his past into a more complete whole, but I'm not sure to what end. My best guess is that there's some parallel being drawn between the narrator's father's sudden abandonment of his family and the narrator's own gradual withdrawal from his own family. But the author leaves a little bit too much only hinted at for me to be sure. While I usually like my novels a little less vague, the writing here makes up for this, and the author doesn't dissemble into unexplained occurrences, he just lets the reader to a bit more work filling the gaps. Or so it seemed to me. And, thankfully, the author doesn't pull that trick of inexplicably holding back some vital information just to give an unearned sense of closure on the final page (cf. The Sea - a novel that I really came to dislike in the end).
Anyway, even though I couldn't work out what Mr. Petterson was getting at, I really quite enjoyed this one. Buoyed up by this one, C has bought his most recent novel, so I'll doubtless get back to him again at some point.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad