Beatles, by Lars Saabye Christensen

See also our review of The Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen.

The Beatles is a novel about the 1960’s. About four teenage boys growing up in Oslo. And a fabulously rich, elegant and compassionate book Beatles, by Lars Saabye Christensen about growing up and being a teen-ager.

Bibliography, Lars Saabye Christensen

  • Historien om Gly – poetry (1976)
  • Amatøren (1977)
  • Kamelen i mitt hjerte – poetry (1978)
  • Jaktmarker – poetry (1979)
  • Billettene (1980)
  • Jokeren (1981)
  • Paraply – poetry (1982)
  • Beatles (1984)
  • Blodets bånd (1985)
  • Åsteder – poetry (1986)
  • Sneglene (1987)
  • Herman (1988) Herman
  • Stempler – poetry (1989)
  • Vesterålen – poetry (1989)
  • Bly (1990)
  • Gutten som ville være en av gutta (1992)
  • Ingens (1992)
  • Den akustiske skyggen – poetry (1993)
  • Jubel (1995)
  • Den andre siden av blått - poetry (1996)
  • Den misunnelige frisøren – short stories (1997)
  • Noen som elsker hverandre – short stories(1999)
  • Pasninger – poetry (1999)
  • Falleferdig himmel – poetry (1999)
  • Under en sort paraply – poetry (1999)
  • Pinnsvinsol – poetry (2000)
  • Halvbroren (2001) - The Half Brother
  • Maskeblomstfamilien (2003)
  • Sanger og steiner - poetry (2003)
  • SATS – short stories (2003)
  • Oscar Wildes heis – short stories (2004)
  • Modellen (2005) The Model
  • Norske omveier - poetry (2005)
  • Saabyes cirkus (2006)
  • Ordiord (2007)
  • Bisettelsen (2008)
  • Visning (2009)
  • Bernard Hvals forsnakkelser (2010)

In addition, he has also written some plays and children's books.

See also interview with Lars Saabye Christensen in The Independent.

In Norway, this was Saabye Christensen’s breakthrough novel. It achieved enormous success in Norway and still has something like a cult status. In fact, it was recently voted the most popular book in Norway. It is part of a trilogy, that started with Beatles and continued with Bly (English: Lead (the metal)) and Bisettelsen (English: The Funeral).

Kim Karlsen and his three buddies Gunnar, Ola and Seb occasionally like to think of themselves as the big guys. But Beatles is not a story of the Beatles, nor is it only a story of four guys who thought they were the Beatles, or tried to be like the Beatles. To some extent it is, but it also is something a lot different and much more – a story about four young guys growing up in Norway in the late 60’s – during the time when Beatlemania was evident all over Europe.

And Beatles is the story of their friendship. It begins in 1965. And it is written in a neat way – each chapter takes a different Beatles-song as title and theme. It was a time when being a Beatles fan meant growing slightly longer hair – which at the time more or less signified rebellion. And it was a time when a new youth culture, opposed to the established and the previous generation, emerged, most places in a radical and liberated form. I don’t think the gap between two generations have ever been bigger than it was then.

Kim, Gunnar, Ola and Seb each takes on one of the Fab Four's names. They plan to start their own outfit, The Snafus. They never got that far, but the idea was there, and in a sense organized their lives. Just as the idea of starting a band was in the heads of tens of thousands of young men throughout Europe at the time.

So instead of a story of The Snafus, we are fortunate enough to be read a tale of four young guys doing the things one did – struggling at school, seeing Playboy for the first time, getting attracted to girls, messing around, getting into gang fights, doing the booze and dope thingies, getting interested in politics, and all of that.

And then, like the real Beatles, they split up, move separate ways. And each has to find himself. Each now on their own. And face the music of real life - or the identity crises, the problems of identity creation, of forming new relationships, and all of that.

It is a warm, nice and lovely book, written in Lars Saabye Christensen’s beautiful, colorful language, and filled with humor, imagery, similes, metaphors and hyperboles. The translation by Don Bartlett is smooth as silk. Saabye Christensen’s Beatles is a timeless and enduring coming-of-age story taking place at a particularly interesting point in history and written in a fashion that everybody growing up during that time will recognize. It is also a literary masterpiece, a thing of beauty and a source of great joy. And - did I mention - fun to read! I hope the other two volumes of the trilogy will be translated in to English as well.

Also, interestingly enough, if you are so inclined, you can also read a thorough and very interesting study of this book: Lars Saabye Christensen's Beatles: A Study in Literary Translation and Cross-Cultural Influence, written by Kerstin Ketteman!

The Model, by Lars Saabye Christensen

This is a somewhat dark and gloomy Saabye Christensen novel, but is has its lighter moments and lots of dark humor.

Prizes, Lars Saabye Christensen

(the most important ones only)

  • Tarjei Vesaas debut prize 1976
  • The Riverton prize 1987
  • Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature 1988, for Herman
  • The Book Sellers prize, 1990, for Bly
  • The Amanda prize, 1991
  • The Book Sellers prize, 2001, for The Half Brother
  • The Nordic Council's Literature Prize 2002, for The Halfbrother
  • Shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2005 for The Half Brother
  • "Chevalier dans L’ordre des Arts et Lettres", 2008

The main character is the painter Peter Wihl. He The Model, by Lars Saabye Christensenis almost 50 years old, and in the process of preparing for a new, grand exhibition of his painting. An important event for any artist. But he is pressed for time, and finds it difficult to finish all his paintings in time. His life is a bit messy and he isn’t feeling all that well either. Then he receives the message that all visual artists (along with many of us) fear: He has an illness that will make him blind.

Wihl's favorite color it titanium white. His canvasses are spectacular – using titanium white he is able to display snow in all its white purity. But now he can feel that he is losing his vision. What now of his beloved titanium white. Of the freezing cold snow, so brilliantly white, so real, so alive?

Peter Wihl accidentally meets an old friend who is an eye surgeon. He makes a very tempting offer. But costly in the extreme, too. If Wihl accepts, he will literally enter into a pact with the Devil. If he refuses, he will be blind. What will he chose – Life or Art? How far is he willing to go? The answer is: Very far indeed.

Wihl disintegrates. And as his confidence ebbs, his painting falters. His wife and young daughter find him more and more difficult to be with, and actually quite frightening as well. He may have been slightly paranoid before, but now it starts to dominate him. Christensen skillfully takes us deep into the mind of a very troubled artist and an atmosphere full of doom.

As Wihl becomes more and more desperate and self-centered, he destroys his relationships to friends and family – by rudeness, violence, desperation.

The Model is a very interesting character study, and explores a somewhat terrifying scenario in great detail. However, the ending is not, to my mind, very good. The novel is well written, interesting in a perverse sense, has a lot of intriguing insights, but it never really takes off. While I was reading the second part of the book I waited for the message indicating that we were in the air. Wheels up, or something similar. I never heard, saw or experienced it.

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