flapped paperback

Aliss at the Fire

Jon Fosse

Translated by Damion Searls

Shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize | Winner of the 2021 Brage Prize | Winner of the 2021 Norwegian Critic’s Prize | Longlisted for the 2022 Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize
Published 2 November 2022 | French paperback with flaps, 74 pages

I see Signe lying there on the bench in the room and she’s looking at all the usual things, the old table, the stove, the woodbox, the old panelling on the walls, the big window facing out onto the fjord, she looks at it all without seeing it and everything is as it was before, nothing has changed, but still, everything’s different, she thinks, because since he disappeared and stayed gone nothing is the same anymore, she is just there without being there, the days come, the days go, nights come, nights go, and she goes along with them, moving slowly, without letting anything leave much of a trace or make much of a difference, and does she know what day it is today? she thinks, yes well it must be Thursday, and it’s March, and the year is 2002, yes, she knows that much, but what the date is and so on, no, she doesn’t get that far, and anyway why should she bother? what does it matter anyway? she thinks, no matter what she can still be safe and solid in herself, the way she was before he disappeared, but then it comes back to her, how he disappeared, that Tuesday, in late November, in 1979, and all at once she is back in the emptiness, she thinks, and she looks at the hall door and then it opens and then she sees herself come in and shut the door behind her and then she sees herself walk into the room, stop and stand there and look at the window and then she sees herself see him standing in front of the window and she sees, standing there in the room, that he is standing and looking out into the darkness, with his long black hair, and in his black sweater, the sweater she knit herself and that he almost always wears when it’s cold, he is standing there, she thinks, and he is almost at one with the darkness outside, she thinks, yes he is so at one with the darkness that when she opened the door and looked in she didn’t notice at first that he was standing there, even though she knew, without thinking it, without saying it to herself, she knew in a way that he’d be standing there like that, she thinks, and that his black sweater and the darkness outside the window would be almost one, he is the darkness, the darkness is him, but still that’s how it is, she thinks, it’s almost as though when she came in and saw him standing there she saw something unexpected, and that’s what’s really strange, because he stands there like that all the time, there in front of the window, it’s just that she usually doesn’t see it, she thinks, or that she sees it but doesn’t notice it somehow, because it’s also that his standing there has become a kind of habit, like most anything else, it has become something that just is, around her, but now, this time, when she came into the room she saw him standing there, she saw his black hair, and then the black sweater, and now he just stands there and looks out into the darkness and why is he doing that? she thinks, why is he just standing there like that? if there was anything to see out the window now she could probably understand it but there isn’t anything to see, nothing, just darkness, this heavy almost black darkness, and then, maybe, a car might come by, and then the light from the car’s headlights might light up a stretch of the road, but then again not many cars come driving by and that’s just how she wanted it, she wanted to live somewhere where no one else lived, where she and he, Signe and Asle, were as alone as possible, somewhere everyone else had left, somewhere where spring is spring, autumn is autumn, winter is winter, where summer is summer, she wanted to live somewhere like that, she thinks, but now, when the only thing to see is darkness, why would he just stand there looking out into the darkness? why does he do that? why does he just stand there like that all the time, when there’s nothing to see? she thinks, and if only it was spring now, she thinks, if only spring would come now, with its light, with warmer days, with little flowers in the meadows, with trees putting out buds, and leaves, because this darkness, this endless darkness all the time now, she can’t stand it, she thinks, and she has to say something to him, something, she thinks, and then it’s as if nothing is what it was, she thinks, and she looks around the room and yes everything is what it was, nothing is different, why does she think that, that something is different? she thinks, why should anything be different? why would she think something like that? that anything could really be different? she thinks, because there he is standing in front of the window, almost impossible to separate from the darkness outside, but what has been wrong with him lately? has something happened? has he changed? why has he gotten so quiet? but, yes, quiet, yes, he was always a quiet type, she thinks, whatever else you can say about him he’s always been quiet, so that’s nothing out of the ordinary after all, it’s, it’s just how he is, that’s just the way he acts, that’s just how it is, she thinks, and now if only he could turn around and face her, just say something to her, she thinks, anything, just say anything, but he keeps standing there as if he never even noticed her come in
    There you are, Signe says


In her old house by the fjord, Signe lies on a bench and sees a vision of herself as she was more than twenty years earlier: standing by the window waiting for her husband Asle, on that terrible late November day when he took his rowboat out onto the water and never returned. Her memories widen out to include their whole life together, and beyond: the bonds of family and the battles with implacable nature stretching back over five generations, to Asle’s great-great-grandmother Aliss. In Jon Fosse’s vivid, hallucinatory prose, all these moments in time inhabit the same space, and the ghosts of the past collide with those who still live on. Aliss at the Fire, is a visionary masterpiece, a haunting exploration of love and loss that ranks among the greatest meditations on marriage and human fate.

‘Jon Fosse is a major European writer.’
— Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle

‘The Beckett of the twenty-first century.’
Le Monde

‘Jon Fosse has managed, like few others, to carve out a literary form of his own.’
— Nordic Council Literary Prize

‘It is some measure of Fosse’s talents that he manages to weave such a compelling narrative from a largely static setting ... Nothing really happens and yet there is something quietly dramatic about Fosse's meandering and rhythmic prose, aided by Damion Searls's limber translation, which has a strangely mesmerising effect. ... [A]n intense reading experience.’
— Lucy Popescu, Independent

‘A drowning is solemnly relived over the generations in Fosse's circuitous, claustrophobic tale. ... The immense burden of family history weighs heavily on each generation as ghosts, memories, and tragedies collide to effects both confounding and enlightening.’
Publishers Weekly

‘Prose doesn’t have hooks, and Fosse’s incantations are as unexcerptable as Philip Glass symphonies or Béla Tarr tracking shots.... On it goes, building layer upon layer of past and present, ancestors and loved ones, until you are immersed in that world and the prose conjures luminous glory flashing past like Blakean angels. Maybe it is convincing to say that Fosse is the only writer whose book has made me weep with emotion as I translated it.’ 
— Damion Searls, Paris Review

‘Like Faulkner’s best works, Aliss at the Fire is about the inescapability of the past and how history reverberates mysteriously across generations. Through voices and narratives that are constantly interrupting and interfering with one another, Fosse captures the grief—and love—that can never be put into words.’
— Alex Shepherd, The Atlantic

‘It is becoming increasingly difficult to find any Norwegian author who can equal Jon Fosse.’
— Tom Egil Hverven, NRK

Jon Fosse was born in 1959 on the west coast of Norway and is the recipient of countless prestigious prizes, both in his native Norway and abroad. Since his 1983 fiction debut, Raudt, svart [Red, Black], Fosse has written prose, poetry, essays, short stories, children’s books, and over forty plays, with more than a thousand productions performed and translations into fifty languages. Aliss at the Fire is his fifth work of fiction to appear with Fitzcarraldo Editions, after Scenes from a Childhood, The Other Name: Septology I-II, I is Another: Septology III-V, and A New Name: Septology VI-VII.

Damion Searls is a translator from German, Norwegian, French, and Dutch and a writer in English. He has translated eight books and a libretto by Jon Fosse – Melancholy I (co-translated with Grethe Kvernes), Melancholy II, Aliss at the Fire, Morning and Evening (novel and libretto), Scenes from a Childhood, and the three books of Septology – and books by many other classic modern writers.