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



Hanne Ørstavik

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

To purchase Love

Title: Love
Author: Hanne Ørstavik
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 125 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Love - US
Love - UK
Love - Canada
Amour - France
Liebe - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Kjærlighet
  • Translated by Martin Aitken

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : tight, effective tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 20/11/2019 Justine Jordan
Hudson Review A Summer/2018 Will Harrison
L'Humanité . 17/3/2011 A.N.
Irish Times . 14/12/2019 Sarah Gilmartin
Le Monde . 17/3/2011 Xavier Houssin
NZZ . 23/6/2017 P.Urban-Halle
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/8/2018 Claire Vaye Watkins
TLS . 3/1/2020 Toby Lichtig

  From the Reviews:
  • "Layers of unremarkable everyday intimacy and acres of emotional distance are compressed between the lines. The two strands are connected by gossamer threads -- or perhaps only by the reader’s desire to bring them together. (...) One of the many uncanny things about this novella is that, though it was published in Norway more than two decades ago, it hasn’t dated at all" - Justine Jordan, The Guardian

  • "(W)ondrous, uncanny (.....) As relayed by Ørstavik’s candid, glinting prose, Jon’s outing induces a mounting sense of dread, even as he is met by apparent acts of kindness. (...) This is the brilliance of Ørstavik’s technique: that we, as readers, can see how often Jon and Vibeke’s thoughts converge, while they are each left blindly to await salvation." - Will Harrison, Hudson Review

  • "Comme souvent, la sobriété est la condition de l’émotion: Hanne Ørstavik a parfaitement mis en pratique ce principe pour offrir un beau roman simple et subtil, méditatif et émouvant." - A.N., L'Humanité

  • "For a short novel that spans only a few hours in time -- there is little in the way of back story and no flashbacks to the past -- Ørstavik brings us remarkably close to both her characters, shifting effortlessly between them in stark, lucid prose. (...) Readers here are in for a treat. Ørstavik’s twinned themes of love and neglect manifest on every page. Her style, brilliantly translated by Martin Aitken, is quiet and mesmeric" - Sarah Gilmartin, Irish Times

  • "Amour est un roman qui étreint. Hanne Ørstavik déroule en séquences brèves comment la mère et le fils, ce soir-là, se retrouvent et comment ils se perdent, sans bien le faire exprès." - Xavier Houssin, Le Monde

  • "Dieses ergreifende Buch von 120 Seiten erreicht uns mit einer Verspätung von zwanzig Jahren. Aber freuen wir uns, dass es überhaupt kommt. Es ist nämlich meisterlich. Vielleicht ist Liebe, das 1997 erschien, sogar eine Art Vorläufer dessen, was die zeitgenössische norwegische Literatur seitdem auszeichnet. Alles ist drin: Einsamkeit, Sehnsucht, Selbstzweifel -- und der desperate, aber nicht endende Wille, etwas daran zu ändern." - Peter Urban-Halle, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Love a trim and electrifying novel (.....) Orstavik’s mastery of perspective and clean, crackling sentences prevent sentimentality or sensationalism from trailing this story of a woman and her accidentally untended child." - The New York Times Book Review, Claire Vaye Watkins

  • "Hanne Ørstavik’s utterly memorable, devastating little book was first published in Norway in 1997. Available in English for the first time, in Martin Aitken’s admirably clear translation, it might as well have been written yesterday: it has been preserved in fabular ice. The writing is beautifully precise and packed with meaning, as it toggles between the perspectives of its two main characters, the narrative pas de deux flowing without grammatical interruption from short section to short section so that it’s not always immediately clear whose head we’re in. (...) Love is an intense tale of selfishness and tenderness, of a trapped adult looking for love and a scared child in need of nurture, a fairy tale soaked in bathos and fraught with jeopardy." - Toby Lichtig, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       In Love, young, divorced mother Vibeke lives alone with her son Jon, but over the course of the novel, covering a single evening and night, on the day before Jon's ninth birthday, their lives and paths barely brush against each other. They recently moved to a village, near a town, but still apparently quite out of the way; the fact that Jon knows exactly how long they've been here -- "We came four months and three days ago" -- suggests they haven't fully settled in. At least Vibeke's job, as the new local arts and culture officer, seems to be going well -- but she seems to focus more on that, and the books she devours with her constant reading, and her out-of-reach dreams than her child.
       Jon, meanwhile, is looking forward to his birthday, and wonders how his mother will surprise him, imagining that she will bake a cake for him, and fairly confident that his great wish will be fulfilled and he'll get at least a first few pieces of a model train set.
       The narrative moves back and forth between Vibeke and Jon, describing what they are doing and what is going through their minds, sometimes shifting perspective as quickly as from paragraph to paragraph, a constant back and forth between them -- with only the rarest overlap. Told in the present tense, there's also great immediacy: we follow them closely through their largely separate evenings and night, step by every step -- and every encounter. Menace seems to lurk in the dark, cold night, too, -- increasingly so as the night progresses -- and the present-tense voice amplifies that.
       While Jon imagines mom is preparing for his birthday -- one reason he gives her even more space than usual, so that she can get everything done -- readers can see that Vibeke has completely forgotten about Jon's birthday, and doesn't have anything ready. Instead, she largely focuses on her own longings: a bit of work, a relaxing shower, her books -- and then a quick trip to the library to try to stock up with yet more escapism. If hardly focused on her son, she's nevertheless easily distracted by most everything else, and noticing that there's a traveling fair in town she wanders in: "Maybe there's someone who can tell fortunes", she thinks, typical of her looking for guidance and direction. There she catches the eye of a man -- who is, of course, just passing through -- and eventually spends most of the evening with him.
       Jon sets out after dinner to sell raffle tickets for the sports club he's joined -- a small (and so far apparently not particularly successful) effort to integrate himself into the community -- but it's a short adventure: an old neighbor buys the lot (to Jon's great relief). Wandering about, Jon meets some girls from his school, and one of them invites him home -- a casual, natural friendship into which he drifts without really knowing what he's doing. When it gets late, he drifts away again -- only to find himself locked out of his house. When a car stops he thinks the driver wants directions, and when she says: "Hop in", he does .....
       "Let me show you something", the neighbor told Jon, luring him down into a room in his basement ..... And the driver who picks him up so late at night even asks him straight out: "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to go with strangers ?" Both Vibeke and Jon should know better, but both -- though separately -- simply follow, accepting whatever alternatives the world lobs their way, almost entirely without any sense of suspicion. The one hold they should be able to fall back on -- each other -- remains awkwardly elusive, so they drift elsewhere.
       The situations Vibeke and Jon find themselves in repeatedly teem with the possibilities of sudden darker turns, dangled in front of the reader by Ørstavik again and again and again. Love is effectively atmospheric -- ever so darkly so.
       Both Vibeke and Jon are innocents, with the obliviousness of innocents; unsurprisingly, both dream and fantasize, because their realities don't live up to what they hope for. Both actively seek, too -- but for all the connections they make, ultimately fall short in maintaining any sort of hold or bond as well. The failure begins at home, in the small and greater disconnects between mother and son -- ranging to almost a comedy of errors in their not even realizing whether the other is home or not (or where they might have gone).
       In the opening pages there are already signs of not-seeing: Vibeke has driven almost the entire way home in darkness, not noticing that she failed to turn on her car's lights, while Jon has a condition that keeps him constantly blinking -- so bad that he even tries to prop his eyes open. In part, their not-seeing is better -- they don't even realize that they should be afraid, and it keeps some of the disappointments of life at bay -- but an inevitable devastating moment of recognition surely looms somewhere ahead for them.
       The laissez-faire attitude to child-(non)supervision stretches credulity to some extent in Love -- Vibeke's oversights are troubling but plausible, but the attitudes of some the other adults whose path the stray still-eight-year-old crosses in the night seem rather a stretch, with no one taking the trouble to see the poor kid home. But otherwise it's a very effective novel of a mother and child, neatly textured with its back and forths, and their almost-crossing-paths (even late into the night).
       A disturbing little read, nicely, darkly told.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 January 2018

- Return to top of the page -


Love: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik was born in 1969.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2018-2020 the complete review

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