Posts Tagged: Erlend Loe

Whatever happened to good old fashioned tennis rackets?

The other day I got the urge to learn to play tennis. There are some tennis courts close to my home so this means all I need is a tennis racket. So what do I do? I go online and on to a search-and-compare site to find tennis rackets. I type in tennis racket, click go, and…. I don’t know, maybe I am a bit naive, but when I think tennis racket I actually think about the bat with the oval frame strung with nylon which is used in the physical, outdoorsy sports activity. What I found was a bunch of Wii and Playstation games with accessories, and a couple of designer tennis socks. But then again, why on earth go online when you have a sport shop specializing in sporting equipment 2 streets away? What’s with the lack of common sense (read laziness)?

Stille dager i Mixing Part

Erlend Loe - Stille dage i Mixing Part

I was reading Erlend Loe’s latest novel ‘Stille dage i Mixing Part’ (Quiet days in Mixing Part) when this thought sprung up on me again. In one of the first pages is printed the exchange between two parties (a norwegian woman, and a German couple with a house for rent). Now, the town in which the German couple live in is called Garmisch-Partenkirchen and, due to the lack of English skills by the German couple, they run it through a translation program into English, and the town ends up being called Mixing Part. Being that English is not a force with the elder generation of the German-speaking population, this passage is funny in an ‘aw’-kind of way. The fact that blind trust is being put into a translation engine just says it all about our relationship to these new devices. We often forget to reflect and keep a critical sense when we get dazzled. Not that it is a decidedly bad thing, I mean, why not Mixing Part? Common sense out the window or laziness?
The novel is narrated from Bror Telemann’s point of view (Telemann for short) and with a massive amount of the novel riding on dialogue the reader has much more room to imagine scenes and expressions. Basically the couple are having a marital crisis which they resolve one summer holiday in Germany (kids and all) by having affairs, one at a physical level and one on a (slightly disturbed) emotional level. It is so clear through the dialogue that this couple have been at a stand still for too long, their conversations are bland and their outbursts are not really outbursts. The famous mid-life crisis label could easily be put on Telemann, but for the fact that I don’t get the feeling he is consciously unhappy in his life, he seems more out of sync with his life. His greatest passions in life are theater and Nigella (the sensuous chef) concocted by, and played with in his fantasy. His obsession with seeing everything as theater distances him away from his family and reality to a point where he is up shit’s creek with only a toothbrush (you will get this if/WHEN you read the book, believe me it’s funny and gross).

Telemann is also a kind of  ‘I’m more intellectual than thou’ type of person, which makes his nonsense and actions even more hilarious. Your everyday non-hero with a side order of unreliable narrator. It’s like Loe wanted to give the stuck-up a beat-up. And he does it so well 😀

“Everybody was beating each other up. The whole neighborhood was a war zone.”

Sumobrothers, p.15 (Danish version here)

In my opinion, Ramsland’s ‘Sumobrothers’ can be divided into two.

Section 1: a little more than half of the book. Totally submerged in physical and emotional violence, sadism, sexual assaults, brutal parents, lacking parents, frustrated parents, frustrated children, and last but not least a whole pile of brutal children without an off-switch of any kind.

Section 2: around the last third of the book. Ramsland is himself getting tired of all the violence, and doesn’t really know anymore which kinds of perversity and misery he can dish up without it getting trite. So he resorts to an emotional revelation concerning the state of things when everything is so submerged in violence, seen from the perspective of a child.

Ramsland’s literary style is very intriguing. He sticks to, most of the time, a naive style (something like Norwegian Erlend Loe) that supports the fact that we are seeing these experiences through a child. Or how a grown up would imagine the thoughts of a child would be formed in sentences. And that is in it self a scary perspective. Because there is nothing naive or childish about the experiences that are being narrated. There is no sign of a happy family, or a happy childhood, it is actually very hard to even find one single happy day in the entire book. The style corroborates in showing the brutality these children are captured in.

Having said that; I have written notes while reading the book, both in the shape of impressions and quotes. And when I read them through and think about the whole of the book and its message, I must say that it borders on splatter movie technique. The apparently regulated, but in reality totally unmotivated brutality and sadism that is going on between children, children to animals, parents to children, children to parents etc., is way over the top. I am genuinely scared that I am reading an instructions manual on how to raise sociopaths. I am, to say the least, surprised that half of the characters don’t perish during these 255 pages of violence. And this leads me to believe that Ramsland, when it comes to the subject of violence (no matter who it is against, or in which context), is making light of the seriousness of a violent environment. It is really not necessary to have 34 chapters on how everyone is beating everyone with the most innovative techniques to convince the reader, that violence is an incredibly subversive factor i any society. The physical exposition of the novel appears almost without reflection. Only now and then the narrators angst and reflections come to the surface, and we are truly being introduced to what goes on in the head of someone who plays tennis with a toad for a ball.

It is in all fairness a good novel that becomes too obsessed with the concreteness of violence description, because the stories that are behind all this violence are worth telling. There is the depressive dad, who has given up the life of an artist in order to becoming a traveling shoelace salesman and ‘dead-beat dad’. The frustrated mother, who is rejected by her sons solely on the basis of being the stable parent. And last but not least the children, who are only trying to find out what is going on between every unsaid action and where/how they fit in. I want to read more about that. But please turn down the violence a bit.