Marta Norheim visits PLU


Marta Norheim, literary critic and author, at PLU. She spoke for the 13th Annual Bjug Harstad Memorial Lecture. Her visit was organized by Professor Claudia Berguson. (Photo: John Erik Stacy)

Literary critic provides insight and tells about trends in Norwegian books

By John Erik Stacy, 25 Mar 2011


Marta Norheim, charismatic expert on Norwegian contemporary literature, spoke at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) on 24 March 2011. Norwegians recognize Marta’s voice from P2 radio and her face from the television program “kulturoperatørene” and as author of her own book “Røff Guide til Samtidslitteraturen” (Rough Guide to Contemporary Literature).


Her eloquent talk at PLU was titled “A guided tour through the landscape of Norwegian Contemporary literature” in which she defined three areas: Autobiographical novels; The war and wars; Mad or just and outsider? Although obviously not all inclusive, the categories represent important contemporary trends. On the question of the role of the literary critic, Norheim said “I am not so interested in saying ‘this is a good book and this is not’ because that is taste. What I am interested in is to interpret the literature into contemporary society. And see what is going on now. Why are we only making outsiders and no heros? … Does that say something about our society? MarsteinPlutseligI say ‘YES! IT DOES!’ I think literature can deal with very complex issues in a way that [other art cannot].”

Norwegian books for AmericansPetterCurseTheRiverOfTime

I asked Marta which contemporary Norwegian books might work for American readers. Among her recommendations in English translation are works by Per Petterson “I Curse the River of Time” and “Out Stealing Horses” – books that deal with “the war,” inner struggle and family relationships. Also in English are the psycho/politico thrillers by Jo Nesbo like “The Snowman.”

For those able to read Norwegian, but perhaps afraid of sinking their teeth into a book that is too big to chew, she recommended “Plutselig høre noen åpne en dør” (Trude Marstein) and “Tatt av Kvinnen” (Erlend Loe). Both books are in the 200 page range and written in a straightforward style while being very different from one another in mood and scope. Erlend Loe has also written “children’s books that adults love to read” and these may be a good choice for students making their first forays into the written language. For a rewarding step outside of the world of Bokmål she suggested Nynorsk author Ragnar Hovland “If you want to read Norwegian and have a good time.”hus:Layout 1LoeTattAvKvinnen

Knausgård’s big book

But the really big news in literary Norway is “not a book really, but a phenomenon” – a work in six volumes (five so far) of almost 3000 pages about “a life that is not extraordinary at all” (can you imagine pitching that idea to a publisher?). The work, by Karl Ove Knausgård titled “Min Kamp” (hmm), is “hyper-realistic” from “big thoughts to very small, small, small things” like “two pages on how to boil water to make a cup of tea.” “Inside the whole thing is the real question of who am I and how did I come to hate my father?” What distinguishes this work from reality TV on paper or a six volume Twitter feed, is, of course the author’s skill: Marta describes it as a page-turner and she eagerly awaits the last volume.

Books in the “Landscape”



Karl Ove Knausgård: Min Kamp 1-6


Nikolaj Frobenius: Teori og praksis

Adelheid Seyfarth: Fars hus

Vigdis Hjorth: Om bare, 17.15 til Tønsberg

Hanne Ørstavik: Like sant som jeg er virkelig, Kallet – romanenlike

The war and the wars

Gaute Heivoll: Himmelarkivet

Jan Roar Leikvoll: Eit vintereventyr, Fiolinane


John Erik Riley: Mølleland

Ingvild Burkey: Intervju med den hjemvendte heltene

Elisabeth Eide: Der mørket leker med tiden

Einar O. Risa: Helvete

Mad or just an ordinary outsider

Ingvar Ambjørnsen: Utsikt til paradiset, Fugledansen, Brødre i blodet, Elsk meg i morgen

Odd W. Surén: Dråper i havet, Kometenes øyeblikk, Knuseverk

Oddmund Hagen: Flukt


Carl Frode Tiller: Skråninga, Innsirkling 1 & 2

Terje Holtet Larsen: Sander, Beundrerens tålmodighet

Tore Renberg: Renselse

Gøhril Gabrielsen: Svimlende muligheter, ingen frykt

Cathrine Knudsen: De langtidsboende

This article was originally published in the April 15, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email

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