2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Conqueror is the only book in the Wergeland trilogy I've read, but it is an outstanding portrait of a fallen man or, maybe, a man who has fallen in the public's eye. The book seamlessly weaves details of Jonas Wergeland's life together with episodes of his television program. What I like best, is that the narrator (who at times annoys me to know ends, but in a manner a real individual would) is not reliable. You don't know if what she is saying is true or not, but it does not matter. You are taken by her telling and want to know how it all plays out, how all the disparate pieces come together at the end and what they reveal about this man who was so revered. I look forward to reading the Discoverer and eventually picking up The Seducer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Thomas E. Bogenschild
- Published on Amazon.com
I picked up 'The Conqueror' by chance in my college bookstore, on remainder, after developing a casual interest in Scandinavian literature, or to be more specific in Scandinavian detective and crime fiction along the lines of Peter Hoeg's 'Smilla's Sense of Snow' and Steig Larssen's fabulous 'Dragon Tatoo' trilogy. 'The Conqueror' is also one of a trilogy (the second in the series) and the only volume I've read. It is a wonderful book, but it took me a while to understand the mechanics of the narrative, likewise to grasp the truly monumental and symbolic elements of the protagonist Jonas. Kjaerstad weaves short chapters together in non-chronological order, plumbing the life and experiences of Jonas from an early age as he experiences the world. At one level, the events of Jonas' life are related by a mysterious narrator who visits 'the professor,' who is taking notes and offering interpretations and opinions about the events leading to Jonas' involvement in a dastardly crime against a loved one. Or is she loved? Differing versions and interpretations of what led up to the crime offer glimpses into Jonas' soul - and through it his symbolic role as a Norwegian. Norway itself is an unacknowledged character in this drama, and Kjaerstad skillfully examines the Norwegian character as an amalgamation of its history, its environment, and its role in the broader world. In this sense Jonas and the book's other characters are but artifices in Kjaerstad's wider study of how narrative, history, and geography conspire to form identity on the individual and cultural level. The book is difficult to grasp at the outset, but it grows on you. Having just finished it and come to an understanding of its reach and power I want to start it all over again and read it more closely. But I'm hoping to find volumes one and three of the trilogy first...
- Published on Amazon.com
This novel is the middle volume of Jan Kjaerstad's trilogy exploring the life of Jonas Wergeland. Jonas (as he is called throughout the book) is a successful producer/director of a Norwegian television series that consists of biographical sketches of important Norwegian figures. His impressionistic portraits make the series a huge success, and Jonas is a star in Norway, someone who has explained these historical figures to his fellow Norwegians. It is thus a shock to the nation when first people learn that his wife was brutally murdered, next that his brother turned him in, and third that he confessed to the crime.
An unnamed historian specializing in academic biographies of obscure Norwegians is given a huge advance to write a biography of Jonas. He completes the research but serious writer's block keeps him from writing the book until one day a mysterious woman arrives at his turret (yes, turret) and tells him she will dictate the story he needs to write, he need only take down the story. Does this sound a tad far-fetched, fairy princess kind of stuff? Yeah, well it is. What follows is a book of 60 chapters, 54 stories about Jonas and 6 chapters of asides by the Professor on the writing of the book. The book is told in something like third-person semi-omniscient one step removed. Meaning you are reading a tale and then reminded that it is the mysterious woman dictating the story to the Professor. That rigamarole of adding the Professor and the mysterious woman I found just annoying. It distances the reader from the written material, which is fine, but only if it serves a point, and I saw none.
Okay, so first there is the odd, distancing, narrative gimmick, and second there is the only real character in the book, Jonas. The 54 stories from his life do not add up to a very complete portrait of the man, nor do they offer a very comprehensive explanation of the murder, but again, that is the author's choice. The problem is that we are hit over the head with certain re-occurring "themes" which the author is trying to weave together into this portrait, but for this reader it was a complete failure. Why? Because Jonas is simply a selfish, shallow jerk. I completely lost interest in him after maybe 150 pages. I can give you a rather long list of his characteristics (strong-willed, selfish, determined to be a success, brutal, a conqueror) and for each of these we are given too many examples from throughout his life. But in order for the book to be a success these disparate events must coalesce into a whole, and that whole should be more than its individual elements. For this reader, it wasn't. The events were merely a well written set of minor stories giving us yet more details of the despicable Jonas. I couldn't even feel much sorrow for the death of his wife, Margrete, even though her death was described in brutal detail. She simply had no flesh and blood as a character. She existed solely as a foil for the author's description of Jonas.
The only real character in this book besides the despicable Jonas is Norway. We are served up massive dosages of Norwegian history, geography, and national characteristics. Sorry, but this simply isn't interesting to non-Norwegians, particularly since there are no notes or introduction to this book. Since Norway has a tiny population (half the size of my home town) and we are repeatedly told how irrelevant Norway is to the bigger world, I assume at least some of the Norway comments are in-jokes for the natives. For example the Professor proudly tells us he was Norway's first Annales representative. That is a Norwegian joke, right? And "I had done for a number of prominent Norwegians what Lytton Strachey did for a bunch of his countrymen." Another joke, right? And the endlessly long and boring descriptions of the bio pics on famous Norwegians most of whom are unknown to non-Norwegians? Oh, and the stamp collection consisting solely of stamps from countries other than Norway depicting famous Norwegians? Bored yet?
The translation is okay, but hardly flawless. There were many sentences that were oddly worded, forcing me to stop, reread the sentence, shrug my shoulders and continue reading. Examples include...
"dad came home proud as a stag in rut"
"Jonas had a musical cicerone that galvanized his ears"
"led him to espy a similarity"
A summary of the author's intentions can be seen in a couple of related conversations...
Why are you doing this?
Out of pity. Sheer pity.
And your purpose?
To save a life. Otherwise there would be no point. [page 63]
Of course not. Something far more difficult. From pointlessness. [page 277]
By that test, the book is a failure. I give it 3 stars because of the immense effort involved in its writing and translation, plus the author certainly knows how to construct a sentence and a story. It simply fails to accomplish what it has set out to do.