Written by Vigdis Hjorth

Publisher: Cappelen Damm
Pages: 343
Genre: Contemporary, Family, Norwegian
Published: 2016-09-01
Original Language: Norwegian

At ingen av dere på noe tidspunkt har spurt meg om min historie, har jeg opplevd og opplever jeg som en stor sorg.. Det er Bergljot, den eldste datteren i familien, som formulerer seg slik i en mail til sine søstre, etter at det har pågått en heftig diskusjon om forskudd på arv. Kjernen i arveoppgjøret er fordelingen av to sommerhytter som ligger ved siden av hverandre på Hvaler i Østfold. Et barndomssted, som alle har et forhold til. To døtre har tatt seg av stedet og foreldrene i mange år. De skal arve hyttene. Men så er det altså to barn til, som delvis har brutt med familien. Hvorfor melder de seg nå på i arvetvisten? Under samtalen om arv løper en annen beretning, som setter voldsomme krefter i sving. Bergljot erfarer at det skal mot til for å uttrykke sin versjon av familiehistorien. Men bare gjennom å ta sine egne opplevelser på alvor og å prøve å sette ord på dem, er det mulig å komme videre.

Read from 2020-10-02 to 2020-11-03
Read in Norwegian
Rating: 3.5/5
Review: It’s been impossible to live in Norway over the last couple of years and not have heard the debate triggered by Arv og miljø when it was released. It challenged various ethical standards by being fictional while also, apparently, being very much, and quite obviously, based on the life of the author. The real life counterparts to the “characters” in the book accused it of slander and lies, but seeing as the book is fiction, they didn’t have a legal case to make.

Because of the public debate I, for better or for worse, read this book under the assumption that the story was pretty much a factual account of what actually happened. Whether it’s true or not, I wasn’t able to distance myself from what I had read about it. It definitely affected the way I read the book, and I think this made me like it more. The book is the inner monologue of the main character, and the assumption that this is also the inner monologue of the author makes it land much harder. Observations or thoughts that might have seemed arbitrary, farfetched, or even random, have much more credibility and weight, even if it’s only implicit.

That said, I also think the book suffers from me (and I imagine almost every reader of the book) already knowing what is going to happen in it. There is a long build-up in which we see the main character suffer from the toll that events from the past have taken on both her and her relationship to her family. This build-up would have worked much better, and probably had some tension in it, if there had been some uncertainty left about where it was going to end up.

Ultimately this is a story about someone with a deep-rooted trauma that is having a devastating effect on both her life and her relationship to her family. Her frustration at not being believed about happened, and the resulting alienation from her family, adds to the devastating effects this trauma has already had on her. It’s an interesting book, but it didn’t grab me as much as I feel a book like this should have done. That said, it doesn’t seem to be written in a way where it’s really trying to grab the reader. Media-coverage aside, Arv og miljø actually does read as if it were a statement to the world about a matter of fact. I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a good piece of fiction, but had it been a biography, which, of course, it legally isn’t, this is an interesting insight into the very abstract pain and suffering, as well as tangible consequences, of childhood trauma.