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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jon Fosse

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Trilogy

Title: Trilogy
Author: Jon Fosse
Genre: Novel
Written: (2014) (Eng. 2016)
Length: 147 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Trilogy - US
Trilogy - UK
Trilogy - Canada
Insomnie | Les rêves d'Olav | Au tomber de la nuit - France
Trilogie - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : dark but effective tale(s)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftonbladet . 7/12/2015 Claes Wahlin
Kristeligt Dagblad . 20/5/2015 A.J.Rasmussen
Kristianstadsbladet . 17/1/2016 Stefan Eklund

  From the Reviews:
  • "Det går att läsa Trilogin som man på Dantes tid läste Bibeln, fyra olika nivåer: bokstavligt, allegoriskt, tropologiskt (en moralisk tillämpning) och anagogiskt (om de yttersta tingen). (...) Styrkan i Trilogin ligger i språket. Redan den bokstavliga läsningen äger en så suggestiv kraft, suger in läsaren så att texten verkar som bibelordet en gång gjorde på den olärda menigheten. Man kan diskutera om detta verkligen är litteraturens uppgift två tusen år efter Kristi födelse, men i så fall är Trilogin en sällsamt vacker predikan." - Claes Wahlin, Aftonbladet

  • "Snarere end at være historiske er fortællingerne mytisk-eksistentielle, hvis man endelig skal anvende disse firkantede kategorier. Omverdenen betyder ikke noget i sig selv." - Anders Juhl Rasmussen, Kristeligt Dagblad

  • "Hans repetitiva ordvindlingar i Trilogin, utan en enda punkt(!), kan påminna om Thomas Bernhards, men där Bernhards språk är frenetiskt och vredgat är Fosses sökande och vackert." - Stefan Eklund, Kristianstadsbladet

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:

       Trilogy consists of three connected compact novellas, Wakefulness, Olav's Dreams, and Weariness. It begins with seventeen-year-olds Asle and Alida leaving their hometown and heading for the (relatively big) city of Bjørgvin (Bergen). Alida is close to giving birth, but the couple have difficulty finding a place to stay; no one wants to take them in.
       There are hints of some darkness surrounding the circumstances of Asle and Alida's departure from native Dylgja, and then there's how they force themselves on the woman in Bjørgvin ..... If the two don't seem entirely on the run, it would at least appear that they have things that are better left behind. And while Wakefulness ends with a joyous scene -- the birth of their son, the family now a happy trio -- the past remains tenaciously on their heels.
       Olav's Dreams finds the young family having abandoned Bjørgvin, though they still live nearby, and Alse and Alida now going under different names (though they figure it's safe to let infant son Sigvald keep his). Their new identities, Olav and Åsta, don't fool everyone -- specifically not an Old Man, who recognizes Asle from back home, and who is well aware of the trail of bodies and missing persons that curiously seems to have been left in Asle and Alida's wake. Asle may have acted out of desperation, but his deeds catch up with him, and he is hanged.
       Weariness moves the story decades ahead, focused on Alida's daughter, Ales, long after both Asle (whom she never knew) and Alida died. Like the previous novellas, however, the story also loops repeatedly to the past -- and here fills in what happened to Alida after Ales was hanged, and the life she found, and her own tragic end.
       The entire Trilogy is presented in a poetic prose full of repetition, with a great deal of simple dialogue between various characters. There's practically no punctuation -- commas are used, but there are only a few full-stops (and it seems likely these are included in error in the English translation; the novel appears to be meant to be without any periods, and the few that are found in the English version come early on (and there is no apparent or plausible reason why there and then nowhere else); it looks like their inclusion is an editorial oversight).
       There's a timeless feel to the story, and there's no specificity about when it takes place; it certainly evokes poetic-epic grandeur, even as it is a relatively simple story. With the Biblical echoes of the opening -- Alida a Mary-like figure as they search for a place to rest -- and the large themes of good and evil, punishment and justice, love and sacrifice, the Trilogy effectively feels like a much weightier, bigger book than it actually is.
       The stories do build on each other, each relying on the previous one to add to its own substance and resonance (though even the last could be read first, as Fosse's looping-back repetitive presentation means all the essential points and occurrences are re-presented yet again). Certainly, the story gains, section by section: it is a whole that is very much of its parts, which themselves each gain further resonance from the other pieces.
       Fosse also effectively repeats and re-introduces themes, characters, and incidentals across the three stories: one of the few things Asle takes with him when they leave home is his fiddle, for example, and eventually we learn that Sigvald embraces fiddling equally enthusiastically. (Meanwhile, early on already, Asle is warned: "The fate of the fiddler is fatal" -- and, tellingly, his downfall comes when he abandoned his beloved music-making and sold his fiddle.) There's a beautiful bracelet that Asle desperately wants to give Alida, but can't -- but she then finds it on the street, where it was lost by the Girl who had taken it from Asle, and she can treasure it thereafter. The Girl, meanwhile, appears several times as a temptress, in a powerful role that allows for some of the starkest confrontations in the novel (which, however timeless, is certainly set in a very puritanical society).
       There's even a hint of the author and his place in this story, in a trilogy where appellations are so significant, as Ales notes about her half-brother Sigvald, whom she long lost track of:

Sigvald, he became a fiddler, but not much else, he had a daughter, born out of wedlock, and his daughter apparently had a son, and his name was Jon, they said, and he's a fiddler too, and he's published a book of poems, they say, well, people do all sorts of things, Ales thinks
       Trilogy is unusual storytelling; it doesn't resemble much contemporary (or older) writing. But Fosse's style and presentation are effective -- there's something grand and epic to it, and it resonates both from novella to novella and then as a whole, long after. The elliptical presentation, and the way the story loops back again and again, is not straightforward, but it works surprisingly well and to very good effect: this, and the simple rhythms of the language, make Trilogy a very strong story.
       Unusual, and requiring a different kind of patience and engagement from the reader, Trilogy is certainly a very fine work, and worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 August 2018

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Trilogy: Reviews: Jon Fosse: Other books by Jon Fosse under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jon Fosse was born in 1959. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2023.

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© 2018-2023 the complete review

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