Thure Erik Lund - His dream novel, he told me, was a novel that starts here and ends up in Chinese, and the readers should have learned Chinese by the time they got to the end. In one of his books, there’s no people in it, it’s completely empty, but it still works
Thure Erik Lund, Myrbråtenfortellingene
Let’s talk about Norwegian literature. No, we’re not going to talk about Karl Ove Knausgaard; we’re going to quote him:
You wouldn’t have read him, there’s a Norwegian writer, Thure Erik Lund, he’s the greatest prose writer in my generation. He’s ten years older than me. He’s very wild. His novels start in one place and end up somewhere completely different. His dream novel, he told me, was a novel that starts here and ends up in Chinese, and the readers should have learned Chinese by the time they got to the end. He’s untranslatable. In one of his books, there’s no people in it, it’s completely empty, but it still works, it’s just great. In Norway, Lund was the only expansive writer I knew of.It is a bit ironic that such an overhyped author, whose books have been translated into numerous languages, should be the one to break the news to the English-speaking world about the existence of Thure Erik Lund, his complete opposite: obscure, untranslated into any other language, linguistically challenging (“untranslatable” says Knausgaard), not easily marketable. But we should be grateful for the successful author of My Struggle – now we at least know what we are missing.
Thure Erik Lund’s greatest achievement is the genrically heterogenous tetralogy Myrbråtenfortellingene (The Myrbråten Tales) united by the presence of Thomas Olsen Myrbråten, the eponymous character. The first novel of the cycle is titled Grøftetildragelsesmysteriet (The Ditch Incident Mystery), and it relates the protagonist’s botched attempt to write a report on the protection of Norway’s cultural monuments commissioned by the Ministry of Culture. Crushed by this failure and confronted with the existential void, Myrbråten first moves to the countryside and then retreats deep into the woods to lead there a solitary existence like some of kind of postmodern Thoreau. There he embarks upon writing his own theory of the world. Admiring Lund’s critique of contemporary culture, literary historian Øystein Rottem has written in a review that it is so radical as to make Thomas Bernhard and Dag Solstad “pale” in comparison.
Compromateria, the second novel in the tetralogy, is the wildest. It is a science fiction allegory that stretches the limits of imagination and language alike, notorious among the Norwegian readership for its hundreds of neologisms. The main character of the novel is an unnamed writer who makes his own books, manufacturing the paper from random bits of junk: shreds of fabric, straw pieces, crushed stones. At some point he is transported to the futuristic world of Compromateria in which technologies and language are fused together. In his detailed analysis of the novel (unfortunately available only in Norwegian), the critic Arve Kleiva neatly sums up what to expect of Lund’s extravaganza:
What else should I compare Lund with, in a nutshell? The references or rather the associations and formal similarities are so common that they dissolve into generalities: Homer’s adventures, Dante, Rabelais, Thomas More, Baroque travel allegories, Swift, Holberg and (a far stronger resemblance) Hieronymus Bosch, Mary Shelley, HG Wells, Egil Rasmussen, the 20th century dystopia, surrealism, gonzo, sci-fi literature that the reviewer barely knows, Blade Runner, Independence Day, Matrix, Alien, X-Files, but perhaps just as much the revelation traditions, [..] John’s Apocalypse, the Spanish Renaissance mystics and other visionary poetry. For it is the truth that speaks through this intricate and well-organised system of (alleged) lies and delirium.The next book of Myrbråtenfortellingene bears the title Elvestengfolket (The Elvesteng Folk) and it features Thomas again as its protagonist. In this short novel we learn about Myrbråten’s earlier life, starting with his childhood in rural Norway in the 1960s and ending in the 1990s, with his arrival in Oslo, on the eve of the great tribulations recounted in the first novel of the tetralogy.
With Uranophilia, the fourth novel, Lund brings his daring literary enterprise to an end. Thomas is now in his sixties and lives in Oslo again, still working on his philosophical system. His ordinary routine is changed when he meets the inventor Ludvig, who has built a time machine in his shabby workshop. Ludvig initiates his friend into his scientific research, and, after the inventor’s death, Thomas continues the experiments with time travelling. Another important part of the plot is the unravelling of the arcane knowledge concealed within a 16th-century treatise called Uranophilia. The investigation of its impact on the course of our civilsation is attended by a welter of historical and cultural references in which fact and fiction are elaborately intertwined. Especially fascinating are travellers’ accounts about visiting fantastic peoples that would make Pliny and Mandeville look like certified anthropologists.
Since the only piece of information in English about Thure Erik Lund’s tetralogy that I’ve been able to unearth is this short entry on the website of Eirin Hagen Literary Agency, I mostly had to rely on Google Translate and common sense when puzzling out the meaning of the Norwegian essays and reviews to form my own opinion. Based on all the secondary sources I thus perused, I would venture to assume that Thure Erik Lund’s cycle of novels fits that rare bill of a literary work whose linguistic complexity is matched by the complexity of its ideas and imagery. The lack of any translations makes Myrbråtenfortellingene especially tantalising, and I want to believe that despite the label of untranslatability, some brave adventurer will stand up to the challenge of widenening the readership of this fascinating work. - theuntranslated.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/the-great-untranslated-myrbratenfortellinger-by-thure-erik-lund/
Thure Erik Lund (b. 1959) made his literary debut in 1992 with Tanger, for which he received the Tarjei Vesaas Prize. His second book, Leiegården/The Apartment House (1994), was the Norwegian winner in the Scandinavian competition for the Best Contemporary Novel of the year. Lund is decribed as the most promising and innovative Norwegian writers. His big break through came with the four novels about Thomas four novels about Thomas Olsen Myrbråten: The Ditch Incident Mystery/ Grøftetildragelsesmysteriet (1999), Compromateria (2002), The Elvesteng Folk/ Elvestengfolket (2003) and Uranophilia (2005).
Lund’s tetralogy and his latest novel, In/Inn (2006), spans from portrayals of exuberant mundane existentialism and a life lived in close communion with nature, to civilization criticism, monstrous social systems and alternative world theories. The author has a distinctive and extremely well developed language. He displays a great storytelling talent – a voice apart in contemporary literature and one of Norway’s most innovative authors.
He has written eight novels and two collections of essays.Awards: The Literary Critics’ Prize 2005. Translations: In /Inn (2006). Sold to Denmark.
The Ditch Incident Mystery/Grøftetildragelsesmysteriet
The first part of the novel, The Spiritual Man, is a strong criticism of modernity and the urbane. We meet the intellectual outsider, Thomas Olsen Myrbråten, who fails to write a report for the Ministry of Culture about the challenges relating to the protection of cultural monuments. The paradox is that the authenticity disappears when they become cultural monuments. He is thrown out of the ministry with his report. In the second part, Life Shows Up, Thomas has left town and gone back to his childhood’s home in the country together with Helene, a rather worn out lady. Their love life is exhausting. They are surrounded by the most bizarre village eccentrics who are obsessed with meaningless inventions and working methods. In the last part, The Woodsman, Thomas escapes to the woods, to solitude. He identifies completely with the forest and merges with it physically and mentally.
The first part of the novel can be read as a criticism of civilization. The two final parts are crazy and original ”portraits of everyday life” recounted partly as indirect text analysis and partly as verbally colourful and reeking country tales.
The reviewers wrote: ”In any case, it is such a radical and aggressive confrontation with our modern culture that it makes both Thomas Bernhard and Dag Solstad’s similar confrontations pale in comparison – deeply original in its bizarre rhetoric and one of the most intellectually stimulating books this autumn.” Øystein Rotten, Dagbladet
”Thure Erik Lund has with his fourth novel shown once again that he is among the best writers of his generation. The Ditch Incident Mystery moves on the absolute edge of Norwegian literature!”
Tom Egil Hverven, Culture Radio NRK P2 Compromateria
Thure Erik Lund's dynamic style of writing soars to new heights in this novel, which is completely different from anything we have read before. We meet a textile designer who immerses himself in the material or matter in which he happens to be working, be it the paper he makes from refuse, the corpses of dogs, or bits of fluff. After a while he finds himself in a world where individual egos are absorbed into or invaded by an unidentifiable collective self: compromateria. In many ways this book may be read as science fiction of a kind, set in a distant future far beyond the horizons of our own age. But, like all experimental literature, the events it portrays exude an allegorical power that impinges on our own lives. The book implies that we are all controlled by something or someone beyond our ken, something totally incomprehensible that it is impossible to put into words.
The Elvesteng Folk/Elvestengfolket
This is the story of Thomas Myrbråten and, more particularly, of the time before he found himself in the fix he was in when we first made his acquaintance in The Ditch Incident Mystery. Thomas lives in an isolated rural community tucked away between the small towns of Hønefoss and Hokksund in eastern Norway. Afraid to go to school and fearful of the future, he prefers to skulk in the nearby woods. But he does have two good friends for company, and together the three share in the escapades and adventures of all boys of that age.
Thomas is the narrator, and his narrative though profound reflections reveal an underlying sensitivity that cannot fail to impress anyone able to read between the lines.Uranophilia
In this fourth and final novel in the cycle about Thomas Myrbråten, the protagonist has become 62 years old, and he lives in a council flat in Oslo. A moderate alcoholic, he goes for his daily walk to the store to buy beer, and then returns home to his flat to write on his “world theory”. But this is but the beginning of a book full of “Lundian” imagination and joy of storytelling. This is exciting, bold and innovative narrative art. There is no one quite like Lund, and almost no one that resembles. . Thure Erik Lund received Natt og Dag’s Oslo Prize 2005 for Book of the Year for Uranophilia.
The reviwers about Uranophilia:
“ A masterly storyteller.” Dagbladet
“Well-written, exiting and challenging, and probably the best Norwegian novel to be published this year… The book is a storehouse filled with groundbreaking mind games, historical information, vivid portrayals, civilsation critique, intricate narrative art end deep dives into the human cognition, all conveyed in a manner that, in all its disturbing gloominess and profound sincerity, incredibly enough also can be describes as entertaining.”
The critics about the cycle:
”The expression "intellectual being" will never be the same again after this author’s strange four-volume work about Thomas Myrbråten. People sometimes use the expression "pregnant sentences". If you want to know what they mean, you can start reading these novels." Fredrik Wandrup, in an article about the book reviewer’s favourite books of 2005
"... His cycle of novels about Thomas Myrbråten is outstanding literature; literature of such rare dimensions that it induces rough, joyous cataplexy ..." Trygve Riiser Gundersen, in an article about the book reviewer’s favourite books of 2005“Thure Erik Lund concludes one of the most overwhelming novelistic projects written in Norwegian in the last decades.” Dagens Næringsliv
The main charactyer has decided to leave the country. He wants to disappear queitly, without telling anyone. All is arranged. His property will be transferred to his children. His car is sold. He wants to go away as slowly as possible, by foot. He believes he is fatally ill. The doctors have not given him any diagnosis, but he has discovered a lump on his back, and he is convinced that he will die.
Fed up with Norway, by repeating cycles, he does not care a damn about the society, about social plays, roles, expectations and trivlialities. He has ever longed for loniliness, now he wants to explore this long lasting wish.