I started Jon Fosse’s SEPTOLOGY a few years ago and didn’t get far with it. His MELANCHOLY I-II kicked me out early on: an imagined instance in the early mental breakdown of painter Lars Hertervig, the opening sequence’s strong (to me) Kafka’s THE TRIAL vibe leads into the same kind of physical assault that always kicks me out of THE TRIAL. (Which did lead me to wonder if I wasn’t imagining a mirroring.) I don’t give a shit about Josef K after he lays hands on his neighbour, and my empathy for Hertervig similarly dries up. This is not intended as a criticism of Fosse. He has invented a form entirely his own, and the Nobel comes as no surprise. It is, on my current limited experience, built on an original application of repetition. The whole cadence is one step forward and two steps back, every breath observed and reconsidered. He uses this effect both meditationally and for a clever new creation of rising anxiety. (The opening of MELANCHOLY is remarkable in its evocation of anxiety.) He does like a near-infinite run-on sentence, but he doesn’t dance and play in them like, say, Krasznahorkai – it’s as cold and flat and steady as snowfall. It is, in fact, the observed and examined breath.
A SHINING is a short work that probably works well as an introduction to his prose approach. I really want to read his plays, of which he has written a great number, and I find myself wondering if, like Beckett, his plays may be more to my tastes than his prose. Fosse claims Beckett as a precedent, and Georg Trakl too, which I can see – Trakl repeated a good deal, and specialised in dissolution, the supernatural and the crumbling of the mental faculties, all which are in play in A SHINING.
(I also note that Fosse, a Norwegian, apparently does not write in Norwegian, but in a minority dialect called Nynorsk used by some 10% of the population, which summons to mind Beckett’s approach of writing in French and translating back to English.)
A SHINING is as simple as a one-act play. A clearly troubled man drives out to the edge of a forest, miles from anywhere, and gets stuck in mud. He decides to walk through the forest to seek help on the other side of it. But the forest doesn’t end, and is darker than it should be. There are moments of the ancient, and of the religious supernatural, and the nature of the man is revealed only in asides and hints scattered through the text. The man’s trance-like state becomes the reader’s, and the fraying of reality becomes shared between author, character and reader, to the point where the end becomes inevitable. It’s a fascinating set of effects.