No, not a biography of the astronaut, but a novel by a Norwegian. No, not another Scandinavian crime novel, but a beautifully-expressed story of a misfit. I found parallels in this work with the previous novel I'd read, 'David Copperfield'. It's narrated by Mattias, a native of Stavanger, from his teenage years to his middle age, though it
concentrates mainly on his last days at school up to his early thirties and begins when he's 29, using occasional flashbacks.
If you find the early pages a little daunting, as I did, persevere. It wasn't long before I was hooked. Mattias has a distinct voice which runs to extremes. Like Dickens, Mattias often narrates in very long sentences, piling clause upon clause to make his point. Sometimes, however, he talks in clusters of very short one line paragraphs that look like verse on the page. Both are carried off superbly. He is prone to pondering cosmic 'what ifs', the kind of person who would be interested in the question, 'If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?' His hero is Aldrin because he was the man who worked quietly in the background while his colleague, Neil Armstrong, took the fame for being the first man on the moon. Mattias wants to be that kind of person; a gifted singer, he turns down the chance of fame to be a gardener.
If all this sounds mundane, however, it isn't. Mattias is the misfit who loses control from time to time, leading to conflict and adventure. Between a boat trip to the Faeroes with friends and his waking up there alone, he loses a piece of his memory. It's a book of mysteries and people with secrets to hide; it's a book that juxtaposes global events with everyday living; it's a book in which popular music plays a part. The themes are mainly of loneliness and isolation, but there is also a great deal of love. There is always a sense of insecurity too. Harstad's evocation of life on the Faeroes is so wonderful, I almost felt I was there at times.
I have only one minor gripe: the translation is geared toward Americans. I can accept spellings like 'mold', but I can do without the dreaded 'gotten'. It's bad enough that Americans use it without infecting European works with it too. Even so, this is one of my favourite novels of any era.