Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

(Trilogy - 1)

Jon Fosse

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

To purchase Wakefulness

Title: Wakefulness
Author: Jon Fosse
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 48 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: in: Trilogy - US
in: Trilogy - UK
in: Trilogy - Canada
Insomnie - France
in: Trilogie - Deutschland
Insonni - Italia
  • Norwegian title: Andvake
  • Translated by May-Brit Akerholt
  • Part one of Trilogy, which consists of:
    1. Wakefulness (2007)
    2. Olav's Dreams (2012)
    3. Weariness (2014)

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

(-) : effective writing, but a small story that feels inconclusive on its own

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NRK . 15/8/2007 A.C. Straume

  From the Reviews:
  • "Denne tvetydigheten i teksten, der uskyld og råskap veksler, skaper nerve i fortellingen. Språklig har den et arkaisk, gammelmodig preg. (...) Kunst er et underliggende tema i boken. Fosse skriver om hva det koster å skape kunst, og om nødvendigheten av å følge kunstnerkallet, med de sjelelige og sosiale følger det kan få. (...) Den lille fortellingen om de unge vergeløse med det store motet er nådeløs, vakker og lysende." - Anne Cathrine Straume, NRK

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Wakefulness begins with seventeen-year-olds Asle and Alida wandering the streets of Bjørgvin (the old name of Bergen). The young couple has just come to the city from their native hamlet of Dylgja: "Now we're sailing into life", Asle had said as they sailed off. Alida is pregnant and close to giving birth, and they are wearily searching for lodgings but no one has a room for them. The women are judgmental -- "Girls like you don't deserve anything better than walking around in the cold, there's nothing else for it", one suggests -- and the only one who seems willing to put them up is an innkeeper whose look Alida recognizes and fears, leading her to pull Asle back onto the streets rather than risk anything there.
       Eventually, they do take shelter, following a woman into her house and basically imposing themselves on her. When Alida goes into labor, Asle goes to look for a midwife. It turns out the house they're in is that of the Young Midwife, but she can't be found at that point ..... Asle does manage to bring another professional, the Old Midwife, back to the house in time, and Alida delivers a son, Sigvald.
       Along with flashbacks to their first meeting Dylgja, and a few scenes from their past there and their leaving what little they had behind them, that's pretty much all the story there is to Wakefulness. Almost incantatory in its presentation, it obviously is meant to echo the story of Christ's birth, the young couple not finding any welcome in the new place they have come to, even as their circumstances should elicit at least some sympathy.
       Few characters have names: among those they encounter, beside the midwives, are characters presented only as 'the Man' and 'the Girl'. They are types -- symbolic characters representing, for example, forms of temptation and threat that the young couple are confronted with as they try to make their way.
       Circling back to what they left behind -- a fiddle is among the few things Asle has brought with him that connects them to their previous lives --, Wakefulness loops almost dreamily through past and present.
       With little punctuation -- almost no full stops -- and paragraphs that emphasize continuity by beginning: "and", Fosse's narrative has a flow that reflects the characters' weariness. The story repeatedly slips into dialogue, a basic back and forth, between the couple as well as with those they encounter. Their own conversations are simple:

     Shall we have something to eat, Asle says
     I'm hungry, he says
     I'm hungry too, Alida says
       The exchanges with others, especially the locals in Bjørgvin, or Alida's mother, before the young couple have left home, have much more of an edge to them -- emphasizing even more how the two youngsters only have each other, and each other to rely on. Indeed, the short novel closes, shortly after the birth of their son:
     No there's only us left, Alida says
     You and me, Asle says
     And then little Sigvald, Alida says
       The closing image of the family-trinity is one that one imagines is happy, but as throughout Fosse avoids any mention of emotion or feeling. The descriptions remain completely neutral -- "he looks at Alida and she lies there and looks and looks at little Sigvald", but nothing is read into the looks by the author (even as the reader presumably does) -- and so also the story only suggests something of a happy end, a family formed, a new stability achieved -- complete with roof over their heads with the birth of the child.
       There's considerable darkness to Wakefulness. At various points, the youngsters are cursed at or rebuked: almost no one is satisfied with who the two youngsters are, or their actions, leaving them very much only with each other. There are deaths -- including Asle finding his Ma Silja dead in her bed, the year before he left Dylgja -- and hints of the more violent and sinister. Yet there's also this placidity to Asle and Alida, and their story -- a sometimes disturbing one. All this leads to Wakefulness, taken as a stand-alone, remaining both ambiguous and unsettlingly inconclusive.
       On its own, Wakefulness does feel somewhat slight -- an episode, not fully explored -- and obviously it works better within the whole Trilogy-concept -- but it's interesting that the next volume, Olav's Dreams, only appeared five years after this one.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 August 2018

- Return to top of the page -


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

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 2018-2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links