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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Lars Saabye Christensen

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To purchase Beatles

Title: Beatles
Author: Lars Saabye Christensen
Genre: Novel
Written: 1984 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 538 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Beatles - US
Beatles - US (Norwegian)
Beatles - UK
Beatles - Canada
Yesterday - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Beatles
  • Translated by Don Bartlett

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good, long look at growing up in Norway in the late 1960s and early 1970s

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 7/8/2009 Tone Sutterud

  From the Reviews:
  • "This novel, set in the Sixties, was first published in Norway in 1984. Yet far from feeling dated, it has grown into a classic. It will probably find as profound an intellectual and emotional resonance here as with every generation that has read it elsewhere. (...) Don Bartlett's expert translation masterfully captures the author's distinctive style." - Tone Sutterud, The Independent

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Beatles is narrated by Kim Karlsen, and it's the story of him and his three buddies, Gunnar, Ola, and Seb -- and, yes, they occasionally like to think of themselves as the Fab Four. They were born in 1951, and the story starts with the first wave of Beatlemania in Norway, in the spring of 1965. Each chapter takes a different Beatle song (or, near the end, post-Beatles solo song) as its title and theme -- all the way through the winter of 1972 --, but Christensen doesn't go completely overboard with this. It sounds -- and, at first, looks -- a bit too simple and obvious, but it's only a loose structure: this is a story of teenage years in Norway in the late 1960s, with music playing a big but not overwhelming role. (The Beatles are idolised, but don't always hit the right note: surprisingly often the lads are disappointed by the newest song -- though practically each new single and album is a major event for them.)
       Beatles is surprisingly unremarkable, the events rarely extraordinary: what Christensen does so well is the very ordinary, describing the experience of growing up as most kids experience it. There's drinking (lots of it), football, some love-fumblings (Kim has two girlfriends that he has to semi-juggle at some stages), and the sort of minor adventures that are part of growing up. Death occasionally rears its head, but is barely more than a ripple, whether close-up (seeing a corpse pulled out of the water) or distant (a classmate who dies). Among the most dramatic events are the consequences of something as small as the theft of a comic book from a store (the guilt of even this small deed practically overwhelming one of the characters -- though in its resolution claiming even more victims) or one of the four breaking both arms. Most of the time Kim just describes his small adventures with his friends.
       These are more innocent times: the four seem terribly young for their age, for most of the book. They are politically naïve and largely uninterested -- drawn to the slogans of the times, but rarely thinking about what is happening around them. May 1968 in Paris, Norway considering joining the EEC (now the EU), and, above all, American imperialism in Viet Nam inevitably touch them, but peripherally: politics is barely more real (or close) than the moon-landing.
       Music -- and letting their hair grow -- is their main area of rebellion, but it's mainly a passive going with the tide. The four plan to form their own band -- The Snafus -- but it never gets off the ground, the sort of pipe-dream they enjoy imagining but can't put into practise.
       While Kim's father is a bourgeois bank officer, the family black sheep is Kim's uncle, Hubert, an artist who barely gets by but eventually flees for France with a girl (an ill-fated yet touching relationship). But adults only play a limited role in the lives of the boys, who generally set off by themselves -- eventually often quite far afield (Kim wasting his scholarship money on a trip to Iceland to visit one of his girlfriends, for example).
       The four muddle through school, with varying success and little enthusiasm, though Kim is probably the most ambitious among them in this regard, eventually making it to university. They're adult, if not really mature, by the end of the book, slowly going in different ways. One does the honorable thing when he gets a girl pregnant, another falls into a drug-milieu, but surprisingly it's Kim that proves most fragile, unable to jump into adulthood on that first try.
       Beatles is a well-written account of a generation, and of growing up in a specific time (less so of a specific place: the Norwegian locale is significant throughout, but much of the novel has a universal feel: change a few details and it could easily be set elsewhere). It's long, but for most of the stretches Christensen easily sustains the narrative, even without resorting to quirky cleverness. It feels very real, especially Kim's self-centered and largely oblivious adolescent attitude (with his attempts to engage with others often failing wonderfully miserably).
       There's a lack of focus that can get a bit tiring, as these adolescent lives move along relatively aimlessly without any real goals (especially beyond the short term) in sight, and that keeps it from being a full success, but it's a good read.

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Beatles: Reviews: Lars Saabye Christensen: Other books by Lars Saabye Christensen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Lars Saabye Christensen was born in 1953.

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