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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Scenes from a Childhood

Jon Fosse

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To purchase Scenes from a Childhood

Title: Scenes from a Childhood
Author: Jon Fosse
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2018)
Length: 152 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Scenes from a Childhood - US
Scenes from a Childhood - UK
Scenes from a Childhood - Canada
  • These texts were written between 1987 and 2013 and were published in a variety of collections and volumes
  • Translated and selected by Damion Searls

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very good, representative sampler/introduction-volume to Fosse's fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Winter/2019 Felix Haas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Its most striking feature is the range in quality between the individual stories, with earlier ones tending to outshine the later. (...) Simplicity of language carries much of Fosseís stories in this collection, but he has tragically taken simplicity of style too far in some of his writing. Despite their varying quality, we do find glimpses of skill and innovation in all of Scenes from a Childhoodís stories. Still, from this collection alone, it remains difficult to comprehend why people are pushing Fosse as a contender for the Nobel Prize." - Felix Haas, World Literature Today

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:

       Scenes from a Childhood collects a variety of Jon Fosse's fiction, written between 1987 and 2013, and includes stand-alone short stories, a dark novella, and a work originally published as a children's book.
       Childhood is central to many though not all the pieces. The title-piece is a longer work composed of vignettes, mainly of reminiscences of childhood and youth, scenes in no particular order capturing experiences with and of family and friends. Music and death are among the subjects that come up repeatedly; guitars figure prominently. Relationships -- friendship, young love, familial love -- are central to many of the pieces, with several recurring figures of friends and family.
       The scenes are simple. Some are divided into shorter sub-sections, a quick progression of events over short or longer periods -- the one-page, four-part adolescent fumbling-love story 'Red Kiss Mark on the Letter' even skips ahead over years. Most are a single steady story-flow -- sometimes more elaborate, sometimes with a back and forth of dialogue. Many are, fundamentally, moments of awakening and (the beginnings of) understanding, confrontation with the new and previously unknown -- death, notably, but also more positive, simpler discoveries and realizations. So, for example, the piece entitled 'I'm Happy':

I've been to town to buy myself some new clothes. I bought a book of writings by Karl Marx. I lie on the bed and read words and sentences I don't understand at all. The next day, I bring a dictionary home from the school I go to. I look up a lot of words. I understand a little, and I'm happy.
       The narrator of the longer piece, 'And Then My Dog Will Come Back To Me' -- a short novella -- is already older, living on his own. He's always with his dog; here, he lets the dog out and then, when he goes to look for him, can't find him. He quickly suspects one of his neighbors has something to do with the dog's disappearance -- "I never liked that guy" -- and everything points, increasingly clearly, to his being right. The narrator works himself into a frenzy, directed evermore strongly against this neighbor:
I'm going to kill him. Take his life. Take him out. Put an end to him. Kill the shit out of him. It's time. Bastard fucker.
       His narrative is practically a monologue of raving, as he works himself up, about the disappearance of his dog, then about exacting vengeance on his neighbor, and then about the aftereffects. Others do, however, interact with him -- other neighbors come and speak with him, about him and his dog, and the hated neighbor, a reminder that his thoughts and actions aren't entirely interior.
       It's a beautifully dark tale, self-involved yet lashing out, full of desperation -- down to:
Now I have to do something. I do. But what should I do ? I've done it. There's nothing more to do. I can't do anything more now.
       It's the most typical example in this collection of Fosse's style in his longer fiction, a repetitive litany of the deeply -- and, here, horribly -- personal. It's suspenseful, too, the style effectively enhancing an almost claustrophobic backing into a personal corner, a lashing out that's justified and yet goes beyond any acceptable bounds and a man trying to come to terms with what's happened to and become of him.
       The final piece in the collection, 'Little Sister', offers yet another set of 'scenes from a childhood'. It has been published as a children's book, both in the original Norwegian and in translation, but isn't your usual kid's book. In it, the four-year-old protagonist is curious about the world beyond his family's four walls, and repeatedly ventures out, sometimes with his three-year-old sister. The situations he finds himself in are dangerous -- indeed, on the cusp of mortally so, on more than one occasion -- yet seeking them out is also simply a completely natural extensions of his curiosity. Why shouldn't he take the row-boat out on the fjord ... ?
       Even locking him indoors doesn't make him safe in the way his parents want; indeed, the one serious injury he suffers comes from his attempt to escape. Fosse's neutral tone of description -- there's no judgement here, no moralizing except indirectly from the adults in the rooms -- effectively suggests both the natural childish eagerness to explore the world and the menace and potential dangers he can not recognize or fathom. 'Little Sister' impresses as a children's book because it does not condescend, and accepts the limitations of childish understanding -- suggesting, through the situation the boy gets himself into, but never admonishing (in so many words) about the dangers of the world at large.
       The variety in Scenes from a Childhood make for a very good introduction to Fosse's fiction. (He is also a prolific dramatist, so there is also, however, a completely different facet to his œuvre left to explore .....) If not entirely unified around the title-theme -- 'And Then My Dog Will Come Back To Me' is entirely adult, for example -- the collection is introspectively-oriented, its narrators and protagonists not always fully self-aware but presented in the process of learning and finding greater understanding (even as they struggle with or even against it).
       Fosse's style -- straightforward, unembellished, but ranging from the concisely spelled out to the more rambling stream-of-(troubled-)consciousness -- is crisp and beautifully polished, while the variety of piece here ensures the reader isn't overwhelmed by the narrow focus of any single narrative (as might the case with some of Fosse's novels). Even the novella-length 'And Then My Dog Will Come Back To Me' sustains both suspense and power for its entire duration.
       Fosse is a very fine (if often challenging) writer whose work is eminently worth engaging with, and Scenes from a Childhood is an almost ideal entry-point to it, and certainly recommended as such.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 November 2018

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Scenes from a Childhood: 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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