cover image Armand V

Armand V

Dag Solstad, trans. from the Norwegian by Steven T. Murray. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2628-8

This unique, fascinating novel is composed of footnotes to a larger work that doesn’t exist. Solstad is present as both author and minor character, delving into short essays about his writing process as he passes age 60. His original idea “is invisible for the author in the sense that he is unable to write it.” He can only try to “relate to... ‘the text up there.’ ” The Pale Fire comparison is apparent, but this novel, written in 2006, is more digestible. The plot happens through a series of vignettes featuring Armand V, a long-serving diplomat approaching retirement, and several characters who are ancillary in the nonexistent novel. Armand’s college friend Paul Buer stars in a long, wonderful bildungsroman in the text, and the twin sister of Armand’s first wife (who never appears) is given a romantic arc that spans 40 years. As the story proceeds, it grapples with the place of Norway in the western world, and Armand has to swallow his concerns about American hegemony. But then his son enlists in the army and everything changes. Solstad (Shyness and Dignity) is, as ever, excellent at mingling the personal with the theoretical, embedded in the strange beauty of everyday routine. (May)