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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Kjersti Skomsvold

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To purchase Monsterhuman

Title: Monsterhuman
Author: Kjersti Skomsvold
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 448 pages
Original in: Nrwegian
Availability: Monsterhuman - US
Monsterhuman - UK
Monsterhuman - Canada
  • Norwegian title: Monstermenneske
  • Translated by Becky L. Crook

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing, if somewhat runaway, becoming-an-author variation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dagbladet . 29/10/2012 E.S.Lauritzen
NRK . 29/10/2012 Leif Ekle

  From the Reviews:
  • "Monstermenneske er selvransakende, sårbar, sterkt personlig, men føles aldri for privat. Derimot føles den viktig. Skomsvold har skrevet en dypt intellektuell, men også eksistensiell roman, om ensomhet og frykt." - Ellen Sofie Lauritzen, Dagbladet

  • "Etter alt dette: mine innvendinger skal ikke stå i veien for det som er hovedinntrykket; et uhyre modig stykke litteratur, et som på sitt beste glitrer og gir leseren sterke opplevelser som ikke glemmes med det første. En tekst som også bekrefter et stort talent." - Leif Ekle, 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.

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The complete review's Review:

       With a narrator named Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, who writes a book eventually published as The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I am, Monsterhuman may be a novel but certainly is based largely on personal experience. Indeed, it is a book about writing, beginning with that debut: as the narrator-author eventually gets around to explaining, when she was planning what the follow-up to her debut success should be she realized:

     "Yes !" I say. "The second book can begin from when I started writing the first book, it's a book within the book, it's everything that isn't in the heart-book !"
       That's more or less what she does; that's what Monsterhuman is.
       The narrator -- like the author -- suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis (a debilitating neuro-immune disease manifesting itself especially in terms of chronic fatigue); she is, or sees herself, as a: "ME-monster", and, in describing the state she's in when she begins her account, finds: "there's no room inside of me for anything other than malaise". Though her condition improves markedly as the novel progresses (except, of course, in those sections that look back in time -- it doesn't unfold entirely chronologically: "I write it chronologically, but in a chronology that I've come up with myself, because I don't want time to have any say over me"), it does play a significant role in the novel. ME limits her -- but Skomsvold doesn't allow it to limit her book; Monsterhuman is remarkably expansive (indeed, arguably at times too much so), and in its constant busy-ness -- even in describing her life at rest -- stands in striking contrast to the odd torpor of the disease itself. There's an inevitable element of illness-memoir to the novel, given the omnipresence of the disease, but it doesn't uncomfortably weigh the book down.
       Monsterhuman is a Bildungsroman -- thankfully focused not on Kjersti's teenage years, but her more mature twenties, and the process then of her becoming a writer. Familiar family and personal issues do play a role -- her parents separate, her longtime devoted boyfriend, Erik, gives up on the relationship -- but her focus is her writing. The creative act itself is important, a counter-balance to real life -- "In reality one doesn't have a choice, but in literature you can do whatever you want" -- but it goes beyond that too. If she sees herself after her abandoned early studies at university and debilitated by disease as 'monsterhuman', writing -- becoming a writer -- offers her an opportunity to find her identity and shape her own future. So, early on, she suggests:
     I am not human, and I am not Kjersti. I think that what it means to be Kjersti is related to what it means to be an author. I can't figure out how else I can become Kjersti. If I can become a book, I will also become human.
       When she is finished, she is more certain, confirming:
I wrote my first book because I had to become human.
       The novel opens with a twenty-four year-old Kjersti in an old folks' home, rehabilitating, and finds her still: "inside of this sickness, this is where she dwells, with no regard for any other place". But she recognizes writing as offering her transformative escape; eventually, too, it helps her in pushing the sickness aside. If not entirely able to crowd the illness out, eventually:
I don't tell anyone anymore, so that the illness will have as little space as possible, both in my head and the heads of others.
       Unsurprisingly, Monsterhuman is an interesting companion-volume to The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I am, a behind-the-scenes look at the writing of it (including the decision about what to title it -- Larger than Epsilon was the earlier working title). Familiarity with Skomsvold's first novel isn't necessary, but the two texts are obviously complementary.
       Monsterhuman is also very much about becoming and being a writer -- beyond the writing, as it describes the Norwegian publishing industry and literary scene, and the creative writing programme she attends. The small country allows for casual mingling of the literary set, and there are encounters with many of the present-day greats: Jan Kjærstad, Stig Sæterbakken, Dag Solstad and Karl Ove Knausgaard all have small cameos along the way.
       At times Kjersti comes out of herself, and focuses on others; part of the novel even switches away from the first person -- but she remains drawn inward, the process still one of finding herself, and she finds:
     Using the word "I" gives the feeling of something real, and if you enter far enough into the "I," it transforms int a third person. Maybe this indicates that the closer I am able to get to who I am, in my writing, the less it will feel like me.
       Self-aware throughout -- and recognizing what is often a form of self-obsession -- Skomsvold does have enough distance also to recognize what she is doing, to the extent that she can even suggest:
One can make fun of Skomsvold's weaknesses, she even pokes fun at them herself, thereby appearing as a more pathetic than tragic figure. Yet when distanced from the grandeur of literature's tragic heroes, Skomsvold appears all the more fitting as a modern anti-hero.
       Admirably devoid of pathos, Monsterhuman does arguably ramble on too far at points, yet it remains engaging. A personal document, Skomsvold's treatment of her subject-matter (herself) profits from its fictionalized form; like Knausgaard in My Struggle, she's onto something, and she does it well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 October 2017

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Monsterhuman: Reviews: Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold: Other books by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold was born in 1979.

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© 2017 the complete review

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