A friend and I went to yesterday’s International Author’s Stage to experience Beate Grimsrud, the Norwegian, now Swedish-based, author of works like “En dåre fri” (roughly translated to ‘A fool free’) and “At smyge forbi en økse” (again roughly ‘To edge past an axe’).
As far as the Scandinavian literary scene is concerned Grimsrud has been very much talked about – she is one of the, lately many, author’s who have been highlighted for their use of autobiographical material to a level of extremely concreteness.
She has been awarded several prizes for her authorship and recently she was nominated by Norway AND Sweden for the Nordic Council Literature Prize of 2011. Something she noted at the event yesterday was not the advantage some would claim. But, nonetheless, impressive. And in Sweden her style has even become a term in its own: Grimsrudsk (Grimsrudian) – narrative with detours, sudden associations to other subjects etc.
She started by reciting from “At smyge forbi en økse”, which, I’ll admit, was muy impressivo. Either she has done this a lot or her works sit so embedded in her she can just pick pieces to recount in front of an audience.
Even though Anette Dina Sørensen (the interviewer) did most of the talking (she whipped up quite an analysis of Grimsrud’s authorship, kudos, both relating to queer theory, psychiatry, and autobiographical matter) what Grimsrud had to say was very much to the point.
Her project is to open up or break down the barriers and categories we are so quick to set up and upholding – leaving us constrained versions of humanity. Men, women, mentally fit or sick, child, adult.
When she read from “En dåre fri” people in the audience were nodding, laughing, sighing and acknowledging the narrative vivaciously – the experience was fascinating. When she read from her works the atmosphere in the room was like the audience became part of a single entity whose shared reciprocity enlivened the story Grimsrud told. Much in the spirit of what she argued about books: that they don’t really exist before they have an audience/readership.
She told Sørensen how writing for her was like a sprinter at a marathon – she poured all into a book, writing with fervor and when she thought she had given all she could she realized that she had 40 km left to run! OK, she said it much better, with the calm air of a writer, or maybe you should have been there to hear it.
Then they talked about the character of Eli, how Grimsrud used the ambiguous name so it would relate to men and women, and Eli’s schizophrenia that resulted in hearing voices, 4 male voices to be specific.
One little tidbit: did you know that “En dåre fri” in Norwegian is not the same as its Swedish counterpart? And that the Danish translator has meshed these two into the Danish translation? This is fascinating to me.
I have yet to read one of Grimsrud’s works, but I have a feeling that won’t take long – my fingers are already itching to use non-existing moneys on “En dåre fri”. We’ll see how long the struggle will be.
Have you read anything of Grimsrud? I would love to hear what you think about her books, authorship, themes.
Herbjørg Wassmo is an interesting lady. She says stuff like: ‘God bless birth control, study loans and the washing machine.’ And she laughs with a charming tickle in her voice, the kind that makes you laugh whether you want it or not. But the most interesting thing about her is her presence. She is the kind of woman you would have anxiety attacks approaching (I did). It’s not due to the fact that she is famous, but because of the ‘can’t-put-my-finger-on-it’ blend of experienced elder and rebellious child.
The dialogue between her and Anette Dina Sørensen, apart from a few cross-linguistic hiccups, was affable. And as an extra titbit the actor Karin Bang Heinemeier read passages from Wassmo’s latest book. She talked about children, being a child and emphasized quite a few times the importance of individuality. How the family quite often was the first assault an individual had to relate itself to, assault both as a physical and psychological entity.
She also stressed how important it was for a mother to be able to step out of the glorified role of Motherhood, and escape the pedestal she was placed on. Accepting your mother, sister, aunt as an individual first and foremost would only be of gain to yourself and to them. And through the passages that were read to us, I got a sense of just how much the individual meant to her. How does a person, a writer, describe another person, or for that matter herself? Is it possible even to capture Individuality when you are mediating thoughts, actions and feelings of someone you have conjured up?
This makes me think about Roland Barthes’ claim that the author is dead, that she/he is of no importance to the work, the key to it is language and the one with the key is the reader.
I imagine Wassmo can concur with this. At one point Anette Sørensen talks about a passage in the book where the pastor and one of the leading women (both married to other people) are in the church, and Sørensen reads it as they are having sex. Wassmo (with a chuckle that makes the whole house smile) says that this is entirely up to her, she has not explicitly written this but laid heavy emphasis on the passion which doesn’t necessarily leads to the physical act of sex. And then says, that when the book is out there, it is out of her hands. She has no ownership of it.
It is interesting though, because she has not completely given her writing up to others without feeling that the work reflects her, and so that it is part of her. With the exception of this one (so she said) she has always felt angst when releasing a book. What would people think, say? And so maybe this latest book is like catharsis for her.
I would recommend reading something of Wassmo, and as one man in the audience said, ‘if you know Norwegian, do yourself a favor and read it in its mother tongue so you get the scent of local dialects too.’
I remember reading about a girl, Tora, who lives in a small, shabby island community in the northern part of Norway with her mother and stepfather in the 1950’s. She is a ‘tyskerunge’ and this has great consequence for her. The hatred towards Germany is great after WWII, and any sign left of the occupation is unwelcome. Tora is bullied, her stepfather abuses her and her mother is struggling with herself and survival. Tora must find ways to survive or get by in life in spite of the adversity.
It was one of my favorite books growing up. I was intrigued by this term and what lay behind it. It was also another entry point to WWII, which I had knowledge of as a war, but not so much what kind of consequences faced a big part of the world both during and after.
Later on, Wassmo wrote about Dina, which was so popular it was made into a movie called ‘I am Dina’. And now Wassmo is out with ‘Hundre år’ (A hundred years). She joins the ranks of novel writers exploring the generational tale with the recount of the women in her family. The book is definitely on my to-buy list, maybe I’ll even go nuts tonight and buy it in the bookstore and get it autographed 🙂