Book review: Lazy Days, by Erlend Loe

20 09 2018

Erlend Loe is Norwegian writer, film critic, and screenwriter. He has written both adults’ and children’s books, several of which have been translated into English.

LazyDays

Lazy Days (Stille dager i Mixing Part, 2009, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw) is a humorous novel, largely written in unattributed dialogue, that portrays the month-long summer holiday of a Norwegian family (Telemann, Nina, and their three children) at the Baders’ holiday home in the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The holiday does not exactly go smoothly, chiefly because theatre-director Telemann (who persists, to Nina’s displeasure, in referring to the town as ‘Mixing Part Churches’, on the basis that this represents a literal translation of its name) is working his way through an obsession with Nigella Lawson, and feels the need to conceal said obsession from the much more holiday-focussed Nina.

It’s a difficult book to warm to: while the mostly-conversational tone has an immediacy to it, the short, bristly utterances aren’t an efficient method of establishing character, and whatever sense of identity is carved out for Telemann and Nina isn’t conducive to a reader’s investment in the text. He’s a boor: snobbish, theatre-obsessed, Nigella-obsessed, relentlessly anti-German, while her chief attribute seems to be a long-suffering if somewhat brittle tolerance of Telemann’s opinionated cluelessness. There is the stuff of comedy here, and there were indeed moments at which I laughed, because of the success of some improbable juxtaposition; but for the most part it’s a rather cold variety of comedy, somewhere at the intersection of farce and cringe, and not intrinsically amusing. I found myself repeatedly comparing it with the work of Danish writer Dorthe Nors (such as, for example, her novella Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, whish similarly seeks to construct a comic story, of the human search for identity and meaning, through analogously-minimalist writing): it seems to me that what’s present in Nors’ work, and missing in Loe’s here, is the warmth. While I’m not sure how representative Lazy Days is of Loe’s wider body of work, I can say that this one didn’t really work for me.

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