In the Wake by Per Petterson and translated by Anne Born
202 pages from Thomas Dunne Books in 2002
Translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born, Per Petterson's In the Wake is a bleak tale. Protagonist Arvid is a 43 year old writer whose parents and two of his three brothers were lost in a ferry accident years earlier. This event and fairly repressed memories, especially of his father, rest heavy on Arvid's attention. The fact that he was supposed to be on that very ferry only compounds his thoughts.
Arvid hasn't written anything in ages, and has very little contact with the world outside his apartment. In fact, some of the very little contact he does have is within his apartment building, with the Kurdish neighbors who live on the floor above him - even though their communication is stilted due to language issues.
What impressed me most about Petterson's writing is that while this is indeed a bleak tale, and deals quite a lot with Arvid driving, or sitting, or thinking, without much at all happening (save his remaining living brother's failed attempt at suicide), it is an oddly riveting and hopeful read. Two hundred plus pages of depression and angst would have been a tough road to hoe, but Petterson allows for bits of humor, and non-devastating introspection and the occasional interaction with other humans that help keep Arvid's head in the fact that there is something to life, something worth spending time on.
It is this readability that brings this novel up above being a simple look at the psychology of dealing with loss or catastrophe. Petterson submerges his readers into a three week time period of Arvid's life, writing fantastic scene after scene (such as the opening to chapter five, where Arvid is awakened by a roaring sound. It turns out it's a helicopter searching out along a ridge - a ridge that Arvid happens to be lying asleep in the snow upon). These scenes propel the reader forward to a somewhat surprising ending. Surprising, but not out of the question at all. In fact, it works very well.