The ConquerorThe Conqueror by Jan Kjærstad
My rating: 4/5 cats
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i am going to try to be as cautious as i can to avoid being a big fat spoiler. if discussing the differences in tone, and structure, and scope and characterization between the first and second of these books counts as spoilers to you, then, yes, this will spoil. (and you are a nerd) but those elements are very important to this particular reading experience and may or may not be better left to your own discoveriesthat’s your call. and that is my warning. but i am still going to try to be cautious.

frankly, i don’t even know where to begin. usually i just sit down here and spew forth whatever is in my head at the time about the book; “moments of being” and suchlike. but this one might take a little while to absorb. the brain, she is thinking many things…

i mean, the middle book of a trilogy, the forgotten middle child which is neither the introduction to the characters and issues, nor its resolution. it just sits there, bloated and making cow-eyes…it’s justmore words. although the crossing was my favorite part of the border trilogy, middles tend to get overlooked, tend to bleed into the first and last sections. (interject your protests here)

but this one is different. this installment turns the promise of the first one on its head. abandoning the mist of hagiography, by having a different narrator, it focuses on some less-than-savory characterizations of our dear jonas wergeland. (some of which made me squirm with remembered childhood mistakes and “crimes”) the two books together function as a spring, coiled back into itself, slotting the dirty little secrets firmly into the golden boy image from the seducer, and spotlighting the inherent subjectivity of biography in a more interesting way than i have seen it done before: “is it possible to change a life by recounting it??”

this book rewards close readers. i think. there is a lot of mystery surrounding the characters and who is narrating and who has done what and been what to whom etc etc. i will start the third part on tuesday, so all my theories will be tested then.

things i love: the “transylvania” episode, the scene with gabriel on the boat when he is talking about the role of audience (including of course, the audience of the novel itself), the repetitive patterns and the element of magic or madness that creeps into this one. but i would love a chronology to be made of this book, the way so many have been made of infinite jest. there are a few episodes i am unsure about where to slot, age-wise. but it doesn’t really matter, because the novels are all about the fact that chronology is irrelevant. the student in me just wants to be clear.

quotes that are awesome:

What if the reason for his success as a seducer lay not so much in evil as in emptiness? In the tendency which all people have for filling the emptiness with substance. And the greater the emptiness, the greater the substance.


It is in the spaces in between that things happen. Sometimes I have the urge to stop, linger, by these black holes created at the crossover point between two stories. Though it is my aim to describe all of the significant moments in Jonas Wergeland’s life, I cannot rid myself of the suspicion that the really crucial stories, or keys, lie hidden here.

this book concerns itself with the hidden: “what are the dark holes in Jonas Wergeland’s life?” “what parts make a person” etc. etc. what parts of a life make up a biographywhat is chosen to highlight, and what omitted? but it also keeps its secrets, just as wergeland does, just as the narrator of the seducer did. even when seemingly recounting every aspect of a life, there are still hidden bits.

but i love iti love the repetition of questions, the focus on these stories that give glimpses only, what we are allowed to see. this second part reminds me of infinite jest with its focus on the seductive power of and potential danger of television, and also bret easton ellis (i know, heaven forfend) but it does, in the beginning bit, where he is mistaken for someone else, and is treated well because of the mistake:

He had a feeling that this confusion, being mistaken for someone else, was a formative experience, that in different guises this incident would keep on recurring throughout his life. His despondency was prompted by the thought that perhaps he should not bemoan this fact: that it was, on the contrary, his only hope.

it’s prettier than ellis, but it is there nonetheless.

okayenough, reallyi could do this all day, but i’m starting to bore even myself. go read, nerdlings.

and let’s all thank chad for making this available to the non-norwegian-speakers among us. thanks, chad!

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