What if ? after eating a great meal alone, maybe you've had a couple of glasses of your favourite spirit, & now thoroughly relaxed you look out of the window, casting a comfortable possessive eye over this, your neighbourhood, your domain that you know every brick of. What if whilst you are doing this, you see a murder committed ?
How would you react?
Would you report it?
Are you sure?
Christmas Eve and Professor Anderson is a contented successful man spending this eve by himself in his apartment, quite happy with his lot as he prepares his traditional meal in his traditional manner. Pal Anderson is a 55 year old Professor of Literature, living a life of apparent ease, untroubled by his existence as he relaxes with a meal and a couple of glasses of good cognac. He glances over at the windows of his neighbours & observes what looks like a beautiful young woman, he glances again and this time he sees a man murdering her.
Faced with this act he recoils back with shock and horror. He heads to the phone and picks it up, before finding himself unable to make the call, unable to report to what he himself perceives is an awful crime. At first it's as though he is merely postponing his decision, reasoning the why's and wherefores, but his inaction soon leads to prevarication, in that he is actively evading making the call. The next day he goes to a dinner party at the house of his friend, he even sets off early with the aim of discussing his dilemma with his best friend, but finds himself unable to. We then follow the Professor over a period of a couple of months as his inability to act becomes a point that brings his whole life under question, until he is questioning every aspect of his world. Even bumping into the murderer in a sushi bar leads to no more than another round of self analysis.
Although this book is centred around a murder, like the Professor himself, it explores everything bar the murder. Pal Anderson and his existential angst meander from location to location, like some lab rat caught in a maze constantly stumbling over this most mundane of murders.
This is a beautiful and subtly written book and at times this is it's problem, there's a drowsiness, an indolence to the tale and although that was a reflection of the Professor's dilemma, at times I felt we were stuck in the doldrums. There's also a great deal of intelligence in this book, that makes this harder to write about without name dropping the usual suspects, it's almost as if the book is better a couple of days after you've finished it, when it has had time to percolate through your thought processes.
In a way the book reminded me more of a research paper - detailing a certain segment of society - than a thriller, the dry almost clinical style and the third person narrative combine to give the idea of some individual monitoring the professor's every move with notepad in hand. Despite this the book has moments of humour and can be poignant & moving as though Dag Solstad felt some affection for his lab rat.