The Boat in the Evening, by Tarjei Vesaas

The Boat in the Evening, Tarjei VesaasThe Boat in the Evening (Original title “Båten om kvelden”) is a collection of short stories, some of them with poems, written very late in Vesaas’ life. With it, Vesaas was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature for the third time.

The stories are poetic, at times almost dreamy, filled with descriptions of nature and events. A colony of cranes arriving at its breeding ground, where they play out a delicate, strange drama ending in a rarely observed ritual dance, occupies a kind of center stage in the collection.

The stories in the book are often referred to as semi-autobiographical, and several of them are more sketches than full stories – fascinating descriptions, intriguing, lightly written yet full of juxtapositions and sentences that play with one another, sometimes in delightful harmony, sometimes in disturbing ways. It’s storytelling as well as an almost magical conjuring of images by a writer who writes in a masterful, very special and extremely sparse manner. At times it’s like cinematic impressionism; built on words rather than images. How it is possible, I am not sure – but it seemingly is.

There is so much in this little book: Delicate sketches or meditations, changing moods, a very sensual appreciation of nature, a deep sense of melancholy, landscapes, rural life. It reviews, records, observes, and touches themes that Vesaas had been fascinated with his whole life. The parts feel fragile, and book blends elements of fiction, philosophy, poetry and then lends some kind of airy texture to the mix.

I was fascinated by several of the stories, perhaps especially intriguing to me are the short novel about the five German soldiers that were killed, hidden and then completely forgotten, resulting in "an afterglow of crimes that rise to heaven." And the closing story, “The Rivers Beneath the Earth” mesmerized me:

“The night opens its clear vault, and one's eyes open theirs. In the night all eyes are large and wide open, dark to the very edge.”

Vesaas moves in a sparse, wintery landscape in every sense. There is as much unsaid as said, as much beyond the juxtaposition as within. The Boat in the Evening is masterful, evocative, and conveys a strong sense of place, in a sparse yet very rich collection of small jewels that I strongly recommend. It is a challenging and thoughtful book. If you feel you like it when you have finished reading it, most likely you have just begun your journey: Now the re-reading can begin.

Praise for The Boat in the Evening by Tarjei Vesaas:

‘A book of great strength and beauty.’ – The Times

‘A rare kind of masterpiece, and another proof that the spirit that of poetry can find truer expression in prose than verse. If Wordsworth were alive he would be quarrying such veins in such a way.’ – Daily Telegraph

‘A rare mixture of creative vitality, conviction and artistry . . . What makes the book for me is the way he [Vesaas] establishes natural presences — trees , wind, water, rocks, ice — as not just characters in their own right but as somehow possessing more right, more reality than the human ones.’ – Guardian

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