Friday, November 9, 2007

Literary Scotland and Norway

Ah, Friday. There are many folks out on this rainy night, tipping back cold draft beer and exchanging looks of possibilities with strangers across the room. These revelers are enjoying the prospect of sleeping in on Saturday morning, with no prospect of punching the clock until sometime Monday morning. I haven’t had a Friday like that in many years. The cheesy rock band .38 Special used to exclaim that “everybody’s working for the weekend.” Not everybody.

This evening I decided to forgo watching television, since I spent two and a half hours last night watching the movie Hamsun, based on the last years of the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. Instead I finished the novel I had been reading for the past week: Looking for the Possible Dance by A. L. Kennedy. In recent times I believe that I’ve stated that A. L. Kennedy is my favorite Scottish author, but then I’d have to admit that she’s probably the only Scottish author that I’ve read. I had previously read So I am Glad and Original Bliss and quickly discovered that Kennedy has the uncanny ability to peer into the darkness of human souls and she certainly doesn’t shy away from the violence that sooner or later seeps into all of our lives. Looking for the Possible Dance is her first novel and she already seems to have mastered her ability to lay bare the pain that often accompanies love. I could really feel the sense of desperation in that small Scottish fishing village. Margaret Hamilton, the main character, works at a social centre aiding the unemployed. She was raised by her father, who begins the novel by telling her daughter that the moon looks down on us all and tells us living is the only thing that matters, “everything else is a waste of time.” Margaret is in a constant low level state of mourning for her father, while at the same time trying to shape a relationship with Colin, who hopes to someday marry her. The book jumps back to various points in Margaret’s life while she takes a train from Scotland south to London. It was a wonderful book filled with the tenderness and fragility that make us innately human.

As for Hamsun, the movie I watched last night, it was better than I had hoped for. On the recommendation of my friend Adam, I had read both Pan and Hunger by Knut Hamsun. Hunger is considered by many to be one of the forerunners of modernist fiction, featuring an internal monologue with no plot in the usual sense. I also highly recommend either of these two works. The film Hamsun does a fine job of trying to detail the later years of Hamsun’s life when he gave moral support to Hitler during the Nazi occupation of Norway. It helped to expose the grays between the intense black and white issues of right and wrong. It also has some marvelous acting by Max Von Sydow as Hamsun and the Danish actress Ghita Norby as his wife Marie.

Getting back to Friday and all it’s psychological implications — I actually had a very nice Friday. Jen got home from work this morning declaring that she was able to sleep seven hours while working at the emergency clinic last night. She was feeling so energetic that she decided to take Justin to the Burke Museum in the U-district and then out to lunch. I utilized that time taking a stroll to the library with our dog Molly to pick up some CDs that I had on hold there. Then I drove to Silver Platters and bought the latest discs by Dwight Yoakam (Dwight Sings Buck) and Jim Lauderdale (The Bluegrass Diaries), followed by treating myself to lunch at Marie Callender’s restaurant. Jen and Justin had a good time at the museum, but it wasn’t the most kid friendly of the local museums, so Jen spent a lot of time try to keep Justin from touching the displays.

So now begins the task of picking the next book that I will read. I only have just over two-thousand titles to choose from. I suppose the decision would be easier if I only owned a dozen books, but where would the fun in that be? Will it be The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War, or maybe Everybody Smokes in Hell? Ah, so many books, so little time. The story of my life.

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