Once again, I am the recipient of a new Scandinavian author, Gunnhild Øyehaug. According to the dust jacket, she is an award-winning poet, essayist, and novelist. Her first novel, Wait, Blank, was made into an acclaimed film. She has also worked as a co-editor of two literary journals. She lives in Bergen, where she teaches creative writing. Her collection of short stories, Knots, was first published in 2004. This “radical collection rangers from the surreal to the oddly mundane. It prods the discomfort of mental, sexual, and familial bonds.” For example, one story is of a mother who delivers a male child, but all attempts to cut the cord fail. The two live the remainder of their lives bound together. Then his mother’s ghost appears off and on to comfort him. Bizarre? Yep, but it is also oddly compelling
Some of the stories are brief—as little as 3 pages on a small format book. In “Grandma Is Sleeping,” Bragg writes, ‘She got both glaucoma and cataracts early on in life, but she always managed, continued to crochet runners with tiny patterns, weave tapestries of small birds in a tangle of branches, colorful tulips twisting out of the soil and around each other, to the delight of her seven children and her seven children’s spouses and her seven children’s nineteen children. But today it bothers her. Today she stands at the kitchen window and looks up at the mountains and wishes she could distinguish where the mountains finish and the sky begins” (57). She is expecting her family for a large dinner she has prepared. As the family arrives, she does not answer the door.
In a story of a single page, “The Deer at the Edge of the Forest,” Gunnhild writes, The seed stood at the edge of the forest and was miserable. He felt like there was no point in anything, like he might as well give up. I walk around here, day in and day ouy, the deer thought, and there’s no one who sees me. Am I invisible, or what? He didn’t think so. I walk around here and could change people’s lives if only they could see me, but no one sees me. Here I am, a hart, and no one cares. The whole point is that I am supposed to be difficult to see, I know that, I am supposed to roam around the forest and not be seen. But it is the very premise of my life that is now making me miserable. I want to be seen. So here I am at the edge of the forest. I am open to being seen, to being shot. If someone doesn’t see me soon, I am going to do something drastic, I mean it. Right now it feels like I’m trapped in deerness. Oh, I would love to change everything, be someone else, something completely different. Oh, imagine if I could be a roe deer, an elk” (88). Several of the longer stories—seven pages—are also appealing. My favorites are “It’s Snowing” and “Two by Two.” One short piece was a play with only the thoughts of a woman about her life.
I am not entirely sure why I am attracting all these Scandinavian stories and novels, but I am certainly glad to add these authors to my collection of world literature. Gunnhild Øyehaug’s collection of stories, Knots, are thought-provoking, and at times funny, serious, sad, and mysterious. Only a story or two might be uncomfortable, but teasing out of the imagery and description, offers quite a few thoughts on ordinary events, ordinary people, and that should get your mind whirring. 5 stars