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Morning and Evening
By Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
Every so often, I decide to check up on what Dalkey Archive's doing. My last check-in, Nicholas Mosley's Metamorphosis, didn't go so well. However, they drew me in with this one. Books that focus on the ordinary lives of ordinary people aren't always my favorites, but since this is Dalkey, I figured it would be more James Joyce than John Updike. Besides, the blurb compared Fosse - virtually obscure in the States but something of a big deal in Europe - to Beckett, so I figured I'd give the guy a look.
What I got was a strange novel, not fully satisfying but certainly worth the time I gave it. This brief book is split into two parts: a ten-page account of protagonist Johannes' birth and a 90-odd page account of a day in his life that only seems ordinary. While I won't spoil the surprise, it's not too hard to figure out precisely what's so odd about that particular day. Fosse drops all sorts of hints, starting with the title and moving forward from there. Still, I don't see that as a problem. Any book worth reading is still worth reading after you know how it ends.
So the question I had to ask was if I found this book worth reading, and the answer is "yes, but with reservations." See, I'm not in love with Fosse's style. Part of this could be a translation issue, but the guy beats you to death with repetition. This became especially annoying when he interrupted the novel's stream-of-consciousness monolog with the phrase "Johannes thinks," as though we didn't know Johannes was thinking. Not the most elegant way to go about it. Another frustration? He isn't anywhere near as good as rendering life's banalities as Joyce, which made navigating the early sections a bit of a chore for me.
Here's the good news: it gets better as it goes. As the novel picks up steam, Fosse ventures deeper into the uncanny and his writing grows more confident and more engaging. I especially admired Johannes' shifting attitudes toward his increasingly weird day. The poor guy is completely baffled as people he thought were dead appear in front of him, but tries to play it off as normal. This might seem like kind of a small thing, but for a novel determined to immerse you in the uncanny, it's all important. Furthermore, the sense of motion in the birth chapter and the end chapter are both pretty strong. So as long as Fosse keeps things moving, he's engaging, and his extreme stream-of-consciousness style is impressive. Just watch out when he stays still.
Out of 10: 7.8.