Written by Vigdis Hjorth
Publisher: Cappelen Damm
Genre: Contemporary, Family, Norwegian
Original Language: Norwegian
Read from 2020-10-02 to 2020-11-03
Read in Norwegian
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.