Sunday, July 22, 2018

Roy Jacobsen - The Unseen (MacLehose, 2016) ***½

The literary trick to use an isolated place to represent the word, as a microcosm symbolising the larger place we live in, is of course not new, but here, Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen brings it to a new level. A small family lives on an island - actually not more than a rock a few miles long - carrying their name. The novel tells the story from the perspective of Ingrid, the girl in the family, who eventually tries to keep this little universe intact, to keep its family together despite all the hardships of a brutal life in a pittiless nature. The island is called Barrøy like the family's name, and giving up the island seems like a betrayal to the entire family's ancestry, a betrayal of the hardships they endured to bring the island to its current state.

Jacobsen makes the allegory a story about the hunger for freedom and emancipation, the ties and loyalty to family tradition, and the sacrifice of personal ambitions and the need of siblings. His prose is simple, and his narrative pragmatic. The story is not about the big words in the previous sentences, but about the daily struggle of a small family that rather defies the relentless violence of nature than submits to the changing rules of a new society that advances to their stronghold. They work the land, they row to the mainland, they fish, they work with their animals, they build extensions to their house, and the boat house ... and despite all the efforts, there is no progress, quite to the contrary.

Jacobsen depicts simple life, with everyday challenges of a family with all strong or special characters. Despite their differences, they care for each other, because that's the only glue that keeps them together. The family he creates is beautiful, and you cannot but feel sympathy for their daily struggles. Jacobsen's writing style is equally strong, lyrical and economic at the same time, pragmatic and meditative.

A highly enjoyable read.

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