I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

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I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: An atmospheric and sometimes claustrophobic account of a strained mother/son relationship. There are major life changes for both of them and this book is all about coping, or not coping, in their very individual ways.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 256 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846553004

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This novel is told in the first person by the main character, thirtysomething Arvid Jansen. He's at a painful part of his life when we meet him; he's separated from his wife and he's not coping at all well. As if that wasn't enough personal stress to contend with, he's discovered that his mother is seriously ill. How long has she got to live? How will she cope? And how will Arvid cope?

And so the reader is plunged straight into all this illness and unhappiness. It sets a very melancholic tone which doesn't really lift throughout the whole novel. The location is Scandinavia and we travel back and forth between Norway and Denmark at various key points in the story. I must admit to finding the title a little clunky and even when Petterson obligingly gives the explanation, I still couldn't warm to it.

We find out that the relationship between mother and son has always been strained. There was another son, but he is no longer alive. I got the impression that the wrong son had died, as far as the mother was concerned. The two of them meet up and try to get to grips with their differences, but it's all very long drawn out and painful. Lots of silences and unfinished sentences.

Arvid looks back in his past - to his childhood and to his early courtship days and tries to make some sense of it all. Politics gets several mentions due to Arvid dabbling in Communism. He gave up his studies to work on a production line for the sake of the Party. A greater cause. Arvid comes over time and time again as a troubled and unhappy man. A bit of a wimp, to be honest. I often felt like giving him a good shake. It's all rather doom and gloom.

In amongst Petterson's usually long and detailed sentences, there is the odd one which stands out from the others, a bit of sunshine on the page. For example, when a conversation about Russia is taking place Arvid describes Gorbachev as ... the man with the map of an unknown nation on his forehead... The only time that Arvid seems to have a spring in his step is when he's working long and arduous shifts on the production line. He's delighted to be exhausted apparently. Probably he's then too tired to think of his own unhappiness. And Petterson warms to the subject as he gives detailed accounts of Arvid's blue-collar work. Once again, it's all rather drab and a bit depressing (like Arvid I suppose). And here's the knock-out statement from Arvid himself Sometimes it troubled me that what we produced ... was so completely unnecessary. There's a nice recurring thread in the books both Arvid and his mother enjoy and also current pop music of the time but it doesn't sit easily in amongst all the angst.

I'm afraid I just didn't find this novel particularly enjoyable. Even allowing for the serious subject matter and the Scandinavian character traits and the style of writing I simply did not engage with it. I wanted to like it - but I didn't. Not a book I'll remember but if you like melancholy, then this book's for you.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad.

Buy I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson at Amazon.co.uk

Buy I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson at Amazon.com.


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