This short book by the Norwegian author Stig Sæterbakken is a darkly comic novel about the interior life of an elderly couple, Edwin and Erna Mortens, trapped together by their own neuroses and physical ailments. Edwin, who has become blind, spends his days confined to a rocking chair in his bathroom, chewing gum and screaming at his wife. His body has decayed to the point of total dependence on his wife, who has become hard of hearing.

Each chapter alternates between a narration from Edwin and Erna forming a continuous point/counter-point of their obsessions. The scene never leaves their small apartment and even there mostly stays in the gum-wrapper strewn confines of the single bathroom itself. It makes for an extremely claustrophobic (and scatological) atmosphere.

When not raging at his wife, Edwin turns his wrath on himself:

Sometimes I think my brain has a brain of its own, it can’t just be me who’s sending myself all of these messages, who’s ordering my thoughts away on these pathetic missions, who’s regaling me with these idiotic impressions, stranding me in all this confusion, really, it can’t all be coming from me, can it?

What do these endless speculations have to do with me? Who is it I think I am? What influence do I have over what’s said? I don’t know the difference between a period and a comma, a question mark or exclamation point … I can’t see whether one or the other is being used … Maybe that little extra brain of mine also has a brain of its own? Even smaller but all the more powerful for that, a tiny little devil brain, furrowed and hard like a dried pea … and, in reality, it’s the one behind everything …

and of course, it too has a brain of its own, the smallest and evilest of all…

This bit of black poetry, captures the self-obsession of the neurotic brilliantly. The book clearly isn’t for everyone…

» Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011 | Permanent Link