The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm and Anna Paterson (translator)

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The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm and Anna Paterson (translator)

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A mature mix of severely bleak and heartwarmingly bright makes for a fine short novel – just as does the contrast between a burgeoning literary career in America and events in Norway.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: April 2018
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 9781782273776

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Jane Ashland is dying. That's a description of a very early scene here – but also, of course, a platitude that can apply to all of us. Jane's life, if anything, is going up and down in levels of pleasure, energy – sobriety – in these pages, but we soon learn that it recently found a very deeply dark down place. Here then, scattered through a timeline-bending narrative, we have her days finding a Lincolnesque lover as a student in New York, glimpses of therapy, a drive to find her ancestors that takes her from rural America to Norway – and a trip there with a new-found friend to watch the musk oxen, of all things. And nowhere in sight is anything like a platitude…

To start with, you can forget any qualms about reading a book in translation. I really fell for the way Jane's American life was conveyed, as well as the contrasts between her and this author's native Norwegian environs. It reads, if anything, as if the source was American, and the mystique, wonder – risk, perhaps – were provided by a writer's exotic trip north, and not as we get here from a native Nordic author. The people in Norway are trim, handsome, muscular and poised, and you don't need CDs to play music in a car. Although some of it does look like Alaska (which is definitely true).

Similarly, you may raise an eyebrow over Jane's being a writer – or at least, having been both a writer and a tutor for novelists. I'm not alone in seeing that as a trap, but one that is suitably avoided – partly because the deeply dark event has drummed a lot of that out of Jane's spirit.

If anything you may quibble over the choppy narrative – sudden jump-cut after sudden jump-cut takes us from way back when in one chapter to a week ago, to now, to next week and back again, all the while circling round the darkly deep event. I found the pages flowed even with that, partly as this is not a long novel, and partly due to them settling into longer blocks, allowing the actual gradual disappearance of the title.

That disappearance is conveyed exceedingly well, in the finish – this is a book with some sterling writing (and, presumably, sterling translation) that might possibly be found in want of something fresh by the avid reader, but really can spread emotion very effectively and easily. Jane is clearly a woman in young middle age and realistically flawed, without that which I've circled round. That nasty event has sort of greyed out her life, and you would think from the opening setting – inside a cloud sitting on a Norwegian plateau – the book was a bleak, grey thing. But it's not, it's full of interest, life and vigour. This read can be gallingly cutting at times, although I laughed at one black moment and elsewhen. Norwegian bloggers seem to have collectively given this their Best Novel prize, and to repeat it translates globally, into a small piece of much power.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Spark by O H Robsson also takes you to remote Norway for a peculiar romantic connection.

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Buy The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm and Anna Paterson (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm and Anna Paterson (translator) at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm and Anna Paterson (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm and Anna Paterson (translator) at Amazon.com.

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