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The Universal Complexities of Coming of Age | Review of “Child Wonder” by Roy Jacobsen – Translated by Don Bartlett with Don Shaw (2011) Graywolf Press

Child

I have always found something enlightening about exploring the list of authors that make up the longlist of nominees of Man Booker International Prize. Even if their nominated works are not readily available to me, reading an earlier work from a writer from that list seems to engage my senses in new ways.  The 2017 longlist this year includes Norwegian writer Roy Jacobsen and I am completely enthralled by his coming-of-age book Child Wonder.

(A time when) “men became boys and housewives women

I was glad to see numerous of previous reviewers had loved the phrase quoted above from the book. Jacobsen has set this story in the beginning of the 1960s and that phrase seems to be the continuing theme going through the book as the protagonist Finn and his mother go through life in a suburb of Oslo. The duo are set in their ways until a half-sister that Finn never knew about joins them and Finn attempts to deal with not only the new situation but a flurry of thoughts and emotions that come to rise within him.

Page 26-27

Ten minutes later. Mother is sitting on the new sofa with a cup of Lipton’s tea and I am in the armchair with a bottle of Solo lemonade, even though it is the middle of the week. We are getting on better than we were ten minutes ago. We are on the same wavelength. A new wavelength, for I am still a changed person, I am just a bit more used to the change, it is all tied up with Mother’s new confidentiality, because she has changed too, we are tow strangers speaking sensibly about how to cope with another stranger, a girl of six called Linda, the daughter of a crane driver who also happened to be my father.

I know that it cannot have been an easy decision to make, in her earlier life Mother had not been full of kind words about this widow and her daughter, but now she has clearly been imbued with a sense of direction, solidarity some might well call it, but we are not the highfalutin kind here, we live on credit and we are inscrutable. And in the course of these two weeks Mother has not only calculated the costs, she now tells me, but she has also considered what people would say if we did not take the girl in. And how we would feel. As well as how she would feel being in a children’s home. Besides, and I would come to appreciate this in later life, would it not be preferable to be the widow who managed to do what had to be done rather than the person who threw in the towel and shunned her responsibility because of something as idiotically self-inflicted as drug addiction?

This, I have to admit, smacked of a victory for Mother over the person who had gone off with her crane driver and who was perhaps the indirect cause of him falling to his death, the man whose memory still caused Mother such pain that photographs of him had to be buried in a locked drawer.

Even though this book is set in Norway and some of the phrases are awkward, the feelings and emotions are universal and the read is wonderfully complex. This is definitely not a book to rush through or a book to be given to somebody who doesn’t appreciate reading fiction. It is a book to be pondered over and savored. And certainly a book to be discussed, no matter in what language or location on the planet.

Pages 223-224

The many phases and hues of punishment, I thought I knew them all by heart, the guilt and the abyss, Mother who doesn’t ask as I come indoors, although she can see it on my face, Mother who doesn’t want to know, and me who says nothing, but munches his supper with a different body because she doesn’t want to know  – besides, I don’t understand her.

I go to bed before the others and watch Linda climbing up the little ladder to peer at me from over the edge of the bed.

Oh, the time it takes for it to happen, half of Monday has gone before we are summoned from the classroom and hauled before (the headmaster), where admonitions and grave solemnity hang in a thick smoky fug from cigarettes and radiators on far too high a setting. But the standard procedure has already been upset, perhaps because we don’t look as petrified as we should, even though for once this is serious.

Child Wonder by Roy Jacobsen is  a wonderful coming-of-age novel filled with wonderfully complex thoughts and emotions. An engaging read and a great piece of literature. I am looking forward to reading his Man Booker 2017 nominated read The Unseen.

*****

Link to Graywolf Press’s website for Child Wonder

Link to the long list of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize

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