Septology

Jon Fosse

Translated by Damion Searls

Published 2 November 2022 | Paperback, 832 pages
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

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Winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature

What makes us who we are? And why do we lead one life and not another? Asle, an ageing painter and widower who lives alone on the southwest coast of Norway, is reminiscing about his life. His only friends are his neighbour, Åsleik, a traditional fisherman-farmer, and Beyer, a gallerist who lives in the city. There, in Bjørgvin, lives another Asle, also a painter but lonely and consumed by alcohol. Asle and Asle are doppelgängers – two versions of the same person, two versions of the same life, both grappling with existential questions about death, love, light and shadow, faith and hopelessness. Jon Fosse’s Septology is a transcendent exploration of the human condition, and a radically other reading experience – incantatory, hypnotic, and utterly unique.

‘Jon Fosse is a major European writer.’
— Karl Ove Knausgaard

‘Fosse has written a strange mystical moebius strip of a novel, in which an artist struggles with faith and loneliness, and watches himself, or versions of himself, fall away into the lower depths. The social world seems distant and foggy in this profound, existential narrative.’
— Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears

‘I hesitate to compare the experience of reading these works to the act of meditation. But that is the closest I can come to describing how something in the critical self is shed in the process of reading Fosse, only to be replaced by something more primal. A mood. An atmosphere. The sound of words moving on a page.’
— Ruth Margalit, New York Review of Books

Septology feels momentous.’
— Catherine Taylor, Guardian

‘Having read the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse’s Septology, an extraordinary seven-novel sequence about an old man’s recursive reckoning with the braided realities of God, art, identity, family life and human life itself, I’ve come into awe and reverence myself for idiosyncratic forms of immense metaphysical fortitude.’
— Randy Boyagoda, New York Times

‘He touches you so deeply when you read him, and when you have read one work you have to continue…. What is special with him is the closeness in his writing. It touches on the deepest feelings that you have – anxieties, insecurities, questions of life and death – such things that every human being actually confronts from the very beginning. In that sense I think he reaches very far and there is a sort of a universal impact of everything that he writes. And it doesn’t matter if it is drama, poetry or prose – it has the same kind of appeal to this basic humanness.’
— Anders Olsson, Nobel committee 

‘Fosse intuitively — and with great artistry — conveys … a sense of wonder at the unfathomable miracle of life, even in its bleakest and loneliest moments.’
— Bryan Karetnyk, Financial Times

‘The entire septet seems to take place in a state of limbo…. Though Fosse has largely done away with punctuation altogether, opting instead for sudden line breaks, his dense, sinuous prose is never convoluted, and its effect is mesmerizing.’
— Johanna Elster Hanson, Times Literary Supplement

‘The translation by Damion Searls is deserving of special recognition. His rendering of this remarkable single run-on sentence over three volumes is flawless. The rhythms, the shifts in pace, the nuances in tone are all conveyed with masterful understatement. The Septology series is among the highlights of my reading life.’
— Rónán Hession, Irish Times

‘Time soon loses its meaning, or at least some of its hold over us. Picking up Septology after a while is like slipping back into a gently flowing river, your body buoyed by the current of “and”s, “yes”s and “I think”s. Memories, everyday observations, prayer, spectres of lives not lived – these all bleed into one seamless whole.… The effect is subtle and cumulative. Any attempt to isolate and analyse it collapses its magic, like a kind of literary quantum phenomenon.’
— Frazer McDiarmid, Oxford Review of Books

‘The narrative keeps circling, inching slowly, as interior monologues sometimes do, and the way a painting might gradually appear from a cumulation of small brushstrokes. The effect is meditative, devotional, like the rhythm of the Christian liturgy…. The reader may sometimes feel weary with the amount of words here too. But there is generosity. And persistence, like in the rituals of worship and devotion, is rewarded.’
— Nick Mattiske, Insights

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. In 2023, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable’.

Damion Searls is a translator from German, Norwegian, French and Dutch, and a writer in English. He has translated nine books by Jon Fosse, including the three books of Septology.

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