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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Meeting at the Milestone

Sigurd Hoel

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To purchase Meeting at the Milestone

Title: Meeting at the Milestone
Author: Sigurd Hoel
Genre: Novel
Written: 1947 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 281 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Meeting at the Milestone - US
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  • Norwegian title: Møte ved milepelen
  • Translated by Sverre Lyngstad
  • Previously published (1951) in a translation by Evelyn Ramsden

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Our Assessment:

B+ : powerful if not entirely successful book about Norway under German occupation in World War II

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 29/7/2002 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hoel's style, in this translation, is taut and spare (though somewhat overly formal and given to the passive voice) and well suited to the wrenching subterranean psychological drama that's played out in the pages. One sometimes wishes the narrative were as taut as Hoel's sentences; it tends to linger too long over the narrator's youthful recollections, though the tension does return toward the end of the book as the political intrigue comes to a head." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Meeting at the Milestone is a book about Norway under the German occupation, the population divided into collaborators and resistance fighters (aside from the many who simply tried to get on with life without committing themselves outright to either side). First published in 1947, it is meant to be a book of some immediacy -- and parts of the book are dated 1947, the narrator organising his thoughts and papers as he describes the events of the past years.
       A resistance operative himself, the narrator presents his story in several sections: part one and a postscript are written in the present, part two is made up of notes from 1943, while part three consists of notes made while in Swedish exile, in 1944. In almost each case, however, the focus of the notes is on events that happened elsewhere, and earlier. The notes from 1943, for example, deal mainly with events from his student days, in the early 1920s, while the notes written in Swedish exile focus on a mission that took him back to Norway.
       Occupation by the Nazis meant compromise and hedging one's bets:

It was important to keep one's options open. Put a little on both horses. Not quite the same on both, obviously, because one did have a sort of idea who would win, but --
       The cost is high, and the narrator -- though on the 'right' side (he is part of the resistance) -- is keenly aware of weakness even in himself, and he can empathise with many who made the wrong choice. He collects these writings because he hopes to better understand what led some to join the Party and help the Germans:
you search for the cause --or causes -- however fumblingly. If you could find them, there is a possibility that such dreadful things might be prevented in the future
       A long section of the novel is devoted to his account of his student days. A country boy in the big city (Oslo), the divide between his rural roots and his cosmopolitan ambition is always a presence -- as it was in so much of Norway. Many of those he encountered around 1920 figure also in the sections that take place in World War II, each (including him) marked by decisions they made and events that happened back then.
       The narrator discusses his early fumbling love-life at some length, revealing how much he was moved by happenstance -- the girl who happens to cross his path at the right (or wrong) moment -- as well as the less than honourable choices he made. It is, of course, a reflection of the choices others would go on to make under the Nazis, the narrator showing how easy it was to essentially fall into one camp or another, and how little idealism or even realism might have to do with it. He makes the right choice (regarding the Nazis), but doesn't think of himself as superior; he knows that he had failed earlier in his life.
       The parallels are quite cleverly drawn, as the narrator is confronted with his past on his mission to Norway for the resistance, trying to find out who was betraying the cause. Practically everywhere he turns, it's not a case of black and white -- just a muddy grey. The personal also intrudes on the political, as the man who 'saved' the woman he let down as a student -- and who has raised his son thinking (for the most part) it was his own -- now works for the Nazis. And it is the woman the narrator let down who, in turn, now saves him.
       The occupation damaged and destroyed lives in ways beyond the obvious, and it is this that Hoel is particularly good at conveying. This is a book of broken lives, the difficulty of doing the right thing, on small scales and large, having lingering and often horrible consequences. Moral ambiguity pervades the book, making for an unsettling read. Death results from some of the betrayals and actions, but it is what happens to those that survive that is most unnerving.
       The book -- and its reflective, retrospective approach -- is a bit awkwardly paced, the long look back to his student days seeming for too long a detour. Hoel describes the student life (and the narrator's love-life) well, which is perhaps why he goes on at such length -- but it's perhaps more than necessary (and shifts the focus too much). Still, there is some excellent detail here, such as when the father warns the narrator of the wanton women of Oslo and the narrator recalls having come across Knut Hamsun's Hunger hidden among his father's books and thinking: "Such books should really be off limits for parents", his discomfort beautifully reflecting the generation- (and cultural) gap that -- as the fact that both father and son have read the book suggests -- isn't quite what he imagines it to be, but nevertheless is unbridgeable. Elsewhere in the book -- near the beginning and end -- there is actual adventure and tension too, as the resistance efforts are described, a spy and resistance story that has held up very well. But the different parts don't fit together neatly enough.
       This is a good book, but it falls short, just, -- largely in its presentation -- of being a great one. The material, and the idea, is there, but while the presentation does reflect the narrator's uncertainty very well, it ultimately makes for a less than entirely satisfying take, perhaps still too close to the events.
       Still: worthwhile.

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Meeting at the Milestone: Reviews: Sigurd Hoel: Other books by Sigurd Hoel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Sigurd Hoel (1890-1960) was one of the leading literary figures in Norway in the first half of the 20th century.

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