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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Scoundrel Days
of Hobo Highbrow

Pål H. Christiansen

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To purchase The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow

Title: The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow
Author: Pål H. Christiansen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow - US
The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow - UK
The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow - Canada
Die Ordnung der Worte - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Drømmer om storhet
  • Translated by Jon Buscall

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Our Assessment:

B- : tepid struggling-writer tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dagbladet . 1/1/2003 Cathrine Krøger

  From the Reviews:
  • "Christiansen er en stor humorist, spesielt når han skildrer forlovedene Hobo og Helle (.....) Samtidig blir hans overbevisning om hans egen store forfatterbegavelse anmassende og villet, noe som gjør at boka om «det misforståtte geni» ender som en litt substansløs morsomhet som nok er underholdende, men der de gode poengene spises opp av det litt flåsete." - Cathrine Krøger, Dagbladet

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:

       Perhaps the protagonist's name can somehow be taken seriously when pronounced with a Scandinavian lilt, but regardless: 'Hobo Highbrow' is a tough moniker to saddle a character with; in the original Norwegian the title at least avoids any mention of the name (which, since Hobo narrates the story, barely rates a mention in the narrative itself, either), as the book is far more sensibly presented as: Drømmer om storhet ('Dreams of Greatness').
       Dreams of greatness are what Hobo has, certain that he can make it as a writer. He has been published, too -- though the publisher is about to pulp his last work -- but he's having a bit of trouble making much headway with his current project. Meanwhile he's working as a proofreader at the newspaper Verdens Gang -- though that doesn't last, either.
       He does have a girlfriend, Helle, a teacher who for some reason puts up with him. Overhwelmed by jealousy he does his best to ruin that relationship as well (further scared off when Helle breaks some rather big news to him), but unaccountably she lets him go through his weird motions before reeling him back in again.
       Hobo is a lover of words (and the game Scrabble) and can get all worked up over: "the sorry state the Norwegian language was in these days", but beyond that he has considerable trouble focussing and gets rather easily carried away throughout the book.
       Hobo is inspired by the Norwegian pop band a-ha -- "a bunch of intelligent, very talented people doing their own thing" -- and he seeks to emulate them (and their success), imagining risking going abroad, as they did, for example. (A minor excuse and explanation for the novel's English title is that it's a reference to the a-ha album, Scoundrel Days.) a-ha is frequently on his mind -- and he even encounters one of his heroes, Pål Waaktaar. And among the games Hobo plays is to translate the lyrics to the song 'Take on me' into Norwegian (something of a challenge for Christiansen's English translator ...).
       There's decent potential to all this, tired though the premise may be: the a-ha connection, crossed with repeated references to Fernando Pessoa (the novel's epigraph is from Pessoa-heteronym Álvaro de Campos) isn't a bad foundation. But Christiansen doesn't do nearly enough with this, or the other running gags. Delusional Hobo just doesn't come across as convincing, with Christiansen unwilling to properly entertain his delusions of grandeur.
       Christiansen has his character wonder:

Wasn't the time right for me to dare to admit to myself that the Nobel Prize was within my reach -- if I could just finish my work in peace and quiet ?
       But Hobo doesn't really come anywhere close to believing he is destined for greater things; he's just a bum who is afraid of commitment (and willing to let his fate more or less be decided for him). Sure, he'll act and lash out on occasion, but it's the same as with everything he does: they're all more or less empty gestures.
       The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow is competently written, but wastes most of its good ideas and potential and isn't nearly as much fun as it could be. Ultimately it winds up being just yet another semi-comic novel of a struggling writer and a man trying to avoid taking on adult responsibilities. Little sets it apart from the vast number of other books covering similar ground in similar ways -- except the awful title.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 May 2009

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The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow: Reviews: a-ha: Pål H. Christiansen: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Pål H. Christiansen was born in 1958.

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© 2009 the complete review

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