Shyness and Dignity by Dag Solstad

Dag Solstad: described in the blurb as Norway’s leading author, an icon among Scandinavian writers. This book Shyness and Dignity, described as one of Solstad’s major works. I suspect that there is depth here that I missed through my unfamiliarity with Ibsen’s The Wild Duck.

The first part of the book, Elias’ growing tension in his senior school classroom, is brilliant. The presence of this melancholic man, set against the bored, passive defiance of his classroom, whether real or perceived, is powerful. After Elias’ pivotal action, the novel is undermined to a degree by the lofty, romantic Johan Corneliussen, a heroic figure who’s use as a plot device is flimsy and clichéd.

It’s not all melancholic introspection, there is humour here, of a sort, as in the description of a downhill skiing race:

One after another, they turned up on screen, in helmets and Alpine gear, before they threw themselves down the mountainsides of (or among) the Alps. Henri Messner, Austria. Jean-Claude Killy, France, Franz Vogler, West Germany. Leo Lacroix, France. Martin Heidegger, Germany. Edmund Husserl, Germany. Elias Canetti, Romania. Allen Ginsberg, USA. William Burroughs, USA. Antonio Gramsci, Italy. Jean-Paul Sartre, France. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austria. Johan Corneliussen knew the strengths and weaknesses of all the racers and continually informed Elias that now, now, he had to watch out, for there, on that slope, Jean-Paul Sartre will have some problems, whereas now, just look how Ludwig Wittgenstein’s suppleness manifests itself in that long flat stretch …

It’s not Curb, but I chuckled.

The writer’s artistry, to the degree it survives translation, is palpable from the first part of this novel. The second part feels compromised. I do however plan to read Solstad’s other novel in translation Novel 11, Book 18.

1 thought on “Shyness and Dignity by Dag Solstad

  1. Pingback: Shyness and Dignity | Time's Flow Stemmed

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