cover image Love


Hanne Ørstavik, trans. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken. Archipelago (PRH, dist.), $17 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-914671-94-7

This haunting masterpiece by Ørstavik, first published in 1997, follows Vibeke, a young single mother, and her son, Jon, over the course of one cold night in the isolated town in northern Norway to which they have recently moved. It is the day before Jon’s ninth birthday, and the boy leaves his home to give his mother time to prepare for his celebration. As Jon wanders, Vibeke forgets about her son and steps out herself to visit the library. From here, the narrative splits to monitor both characters separately as they encounter townsfolk and drift through the hours. Vibeke stops at a traveling carnival, where she strikes up a conversation with one of the employees, while Jon makes friends with a girl from school and later realizes he’s locked out of his home. Ørstavik shifts from Vibeke to Jon with incredible dexterity, often jumping perspective from one paragraph to the next, and, as their seemingly mundane nights progress, a creeping sense of dread builds. The deceptively simple novel is slow-burning, placing each character into situations associated with horror—entering an unfamiliar house, accepting a ride from a stranger—and the result is a magnificent tale. (Feb.)