Friday, February 12, 2010

5. Naïve. Super. by Erlend Loe (read in Finnish translation Supernaiivi)

I started counting my books when I was back in Germany. The reason for this was mainly my friend B., whose acted as my personal librarian and would shove a new armful of books at me during every visit. One of the books I read back then was this, and I remembered absolutely loving it. Somehow, it was exactly the book to read at that point in my life. Reading it now again, my reaction was different. I saw things in it that I did not recognize before, mainly because I did not have the experiences back then that I do now. Now I could recognize Loe's subtle irony in places where I used to think he was being in earnest and critical.

This is a book you'll read in a day, trust me. So you might as well pick it up and give it a go. It is a story of a disillusioned 25-year old Norwegian man, who one day just realizes that he is not excited about anything anymore. A simple game of lawn croquet with his brother which ends in aggressive competition and, subsequently, tears, reveals his state of mind. His brother gives him an offer: he is going to go away on business, so the narrator can stay in his apartment and take care of his mail. The narrator agrees to this, and decides to start with a blank slate: he sells almost everything he has, quits school, and moves in. He begins to take a hold of life in baby steps by making lists: things that used to excite him as a kid (he checks with his friend whether theirs are at all similar), listing animals he has seen (a competition between him and his 2-year old neighbor), and trying to figure out simple joys in life. Such as selecting a perfect ball to bounce against a wall.

Or, my favorite, getting one of these things:

I have no idea what that is called in English, but It's by Brio and called a "pounding bench", and it is well-known throughout Scandinavia as a child's favorite toy. The concept is ridiculously simple: you have a wooden board that is a bit elevated, and it is drilled with holes. The holes fit a peg each. With a little mallet, you hammer the pegs in, and once you can't hammer anymore, you turn the whole thing around and start again. It's genius, and after I read this book the first time I felt this sudden urge to get one for myself. I had one as a kid, and I remember loving to just bang it. There's just something very satisfying in the action, and oddly enough, Loe has managed to capture that feeling in the book.

With the narrator's new found "naivete", he decides to try to be naive in other ways, too, to see if that would help him feel less depressed and concerned about the meaningless of life.

It's an oddly depressing, yet comforting a book. There are hardly any details - just laconic statements from a person who is tired of thinking. That's why it's a wonderful snack read in between other books (I will come back soon with Greg Bear's Mariposa, which is killing my brain...).

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