reviewed by Frances Churchward.
This is a very short novel totalling 132 pages and the action takes place during the course of one evening during the winter months in Norway. Jon, who will be nine years old the next day, has been accidently locked out of his house by his mother, Vibeke, who believes that he is in his room when she leaves the house, initially with the intention of visiting the local library. The house is occupied by just Jon and Vibeke and, when he returns home quite late in the evening and finds himself locked out, he thinks that she has gone out to buy ingredients for his birthday cake ready for tomorrow. In truth, she has attached herself to a man for the evening who works at a travelling fairground.
The story makes for compelling reading and I finished it within an afternoon. Various events occur during the evening both to Jon and Vibeke, many of which have a somewhat nightmarish quality to them. I think that my compulsion to read to the end in one sitting arose from my need to know that the boy, in particular, remained safe.
The boy’s naivety and childlike imaginings seem very much in keeping with his young age and invoke much empathy. However, the thoughts of Vibeke, to which we are party, appear to be almost as equally naive and, although she is clearly still quite a young woman, her immaturity jars with her role and responsibility as a mother of which she seems to show little awareness.
There is a sense of dissonance and uneasiness throughout the story. Orstavik writes in a crisp and clear manner whilst often providing small details and short descriptions which invoke several of the senses and which give the reader a sense of being present in the action. Thus we are skilfully taken to the story’s conclusion.
This novel made my heart ache for the boy and his absolute yet misplaced trust in his neglectful mother.
Out this month (November), published by And Other Stories. Available from good bookshops, including October Books.