Let’s see… you’re a middle-aged Norwegian, a married and well-settled father of two (with a third child on the way), who has just buried his father and then gone off to the woods to ride a bike? You fell off the bike and it hit you in the forehead (yeap, that same bike)?
In such a situation, there’s really only one thing to do, right?
And that is to leave your old life behind and settle in the woods on the outskirts of the city.
This is precisely what our friend Doppler, the hero of the eponymous novel by Norwegian author Erlend Loe, did.
Right at the beginning of the novel, we find Doppler living his hermit life in the middle of a Norwegian winter (“a hermit in winter, hehe” – note of the subconscious). He has just killed a moose’s mother for food, named the moose calf Bongo, and “adopted” it, and now the two of them live in a tent. Doppler talks to Bongo as if he were a child, constantly trying to explain some principles of life and his own thoughts.
Is this actually a short novel about someone who has had a nervous breakdown?
Well… not exactly.
Though at first glance it seems like it might be some sort of dark novel, it is in fact a rather cheerful satire. Through Doppler’s thoughts as he spends time in the silence of the woods, dialogues with Bongo (or rather, monologues), Erlend Loe actually portrays the life of the modern man, and how that same life devours him, not giving him time to, even in voluntary exile, try to find the meaning of life again. Although he lives in the forest on the outskirts of the city, which he now rarely visits (more accurately, he sneaks in at night to take what he needs from certain houses), Doppler cannot avoid interaction with people (whether they are family members, a person building a model of a battlefield to honor his father, a thief or a conservative), and this drives him even crazier. It’s a sort of paradox. We have people longing for contact with others, who end up lonely, and on the other hand, we have Doppler, whom people find even in the forest, and some of them start living in that same forest, as if they too want to reexamine themselves and the meaning of their lives.
Although it is a short novel (about 150 pages), it touches on very serious topics such as loneliness, parenthood and family relationships, generational gaps, the crisis of modern society, people’s striving for perfectionism, obsession with money, and the desire for isolation and to reconnect with nature.
As I mentioned, the novel is short and, despite initially grim themes, is imbued with a somewhat cheerful and satirical atmosphere that makes for a quick read.
I think it’s hard to write at length about this novel, and I believe everyone will definitely experience it in their own way. Of course, it goes without saying that each person may perceive the same novel differently, but I think that is especially true for this one.
All in all, I think it’s a very good novel and truly worth reading… as well as its sequel.
Question for dear readers: What would make you simply leave your (im)perfect life and go to live in the woods on the outskirts of the city?
(Originally reviewed: 08/07/2018)