JUDY KRAVIS

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Thursday, 12 November 2020

To Norway in two books: The Boat in the Evening and Spring Night, by Tarjei Vesaas, who is the most I know of Norway, apart from a Kiwi friend called John Wall many years ago who had lived in Norway for a while and evoked some slow quiet drinking and a despair indistinguishable from calm. Norway came up in the news recently as a country best-equipped to deal with lockdown. Their closeness to land and weather, long darkness and long night with the focus that brings, and perhaps the numbness.

Tarjei Vesaas spent almost all his life in the remote reaches of Telemark, in southern Norway. The second piece in The Boat in the Evening is about a boy who sees the dance of the cranes on a marsh.

I am too young.

Everything is so marvellously wrong. It's so horribly exciting.

Everything is so marvellously right.

There are clear, strict laws of life in such a marsh. One must go out on it. There might be something worth finding.

Lying drenched on a cold marsh, 'a cold tussock in a wind cheater', his marsh eye watches the cranes and he starts to understand they are not birds they are ourselves.

The translation from Tarjei Vesaas' Norwegian into English in the early 1970s is somehow awkward, or maybe that is the country simple showing through, or the adolescence. There are two versions of Norwegian, literary and country. A writer was expected to write in literary. Tarjei Vesaas wrote in country. He wrote what he lived. Lying drenched on a marsh; drifting downriver among mirrors; daybreak with shining horses. 

The Tranquil River Glides Out of the Landscape.

Just Walking Up to Fetch the Churn.

Words, Words 

His chapter headings are their own narrative.  

Spring Night is the story of two teenagers whose tranquil night at home without their parents turns into an unresolved series of dramas around a spiky family group whose car breaks down outside, with a young woman about to give birth, an older woman who has withdrawn and then dies, her fluttery husband, their perverse dealings with each other. The teenage boy finds his dream Gudrun, a year younger than him, among the dystopical family who have occupied the spring night and his and his sister's house; they compare arms in the middle of the spring night as if the unanswerable questions of adolescence are shaping directly into adulthood.


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