Perhaps Novel 11, Book 18 really was (in 2001) Dag Solstad’s eleventh novel and eighteenth book; if not, the significance of the title is not readily apparent. The title implies the writer’s wish for distance from the narrative; not a story, but perhaps a case study, maybe one within the filing cabinet of the sinister Doctor Schiøtz.
Written in refined, free indirect style, or better, a term James Wood borrows – ‘close writing’, any space between the author and character Bjørn Hansen is dissolved. The style, a simultaneous feeling of distance and closeness to the character’s stream of consciousness, adds hugely to the sensation of being pulled into this excellent novel.
Bjørn Hansen brings to mind Sartre’s Antoine Roquentin (Nausea):
I think it’s I who has changed: that’s the simplest solutions, also the most unpleasant. But I have to admit that I am subject to these sudden transformations. The thing is that I very rarely think; consequently a host of little metamorphoses accumulate in me without my noticing it, and then, one fine day, a positive revolution takes place.
Hansen’s existence is punctuated by these sudden transformations, but he remains haunted:
‘You know, I find myself in this town by pure chance, it has never meant anything to me. It’s also by pure chance that I’m the treasurer here. But if I hadn’t been here, I would’ve been somewhere else and have led the same kind of life. However, I cannot reconcile myself to that. I get really upset when I think about it.’
After unburdening himself to Doctor Schiøtz, another ‘host of little metamorphoses’ accumulate, leading to a further revolution, one that in turn will provoke another sequence of metaphysical doubts.
More powerful and successful than Solstad’s Shyness and Dignity, this novel is reviewed more completely by John Self and Stephen Mitchelmore.
>Thanks for the link and the only thing in your review which disappoints me is that you say Novel 11, Book 18 is more successful than Shyness and Dignity – I've been saving the latter keenly, as I liked Novel 11 so much…I'm interested in your comparison with Sartre's Nausea – I haven't read any Sartre since school (Les Jeux Sont Faits) so that eluded me.
>John – There is brilliance in Shyness and Dignity, which makes it rewarding, but, for me, there are flaws that I found disappointing. Novel 11 in its execution is flawless. I am so frequently disappointed by endings. Twenty pages from the end of Novel 11 and I begun to worry, I could sense let down, but I loved how it ended: Hansen's need to be caught by the Singing Dentist is irresistible.