flapped paperback

The Other Name: Septology I-II

Jon Fosse

Translated by Damion Searls

Longlisted for the 2020 Man Booker International Prize
Published 10 October 2019 | French paperback with flaps, 352 pages

And I see myself standing and looking at the picture with the two lines that cross in the middle, one purple line, one brown line, it’s a painting wider than it is high and I see that I’ve painted the lines slowly, the paint is thick, two long wide lines, and they’ve dripped, where the brown line and purple line cross the colours blend beautifully and drip and I’m thinking this isn’t a picture but suddenly the picture is the way it’s supposed to be, it’s done, there’s nothing more to do on it, I think, it’s time to put it away, I don’t want to stand here at the easel any more, I don’t want to look at it any more, I think, and I think today’s Monday and I think I have to put this picture away with the other ones I’m working on but am not done with, the canvases on stretchers leaning against the wall between the bedroom door and the hall door under the hook with the brown leather shoulderbag on it, the bag where I keep my sketch-pad and pencil, and then I look at the two stacks of finished paintings propped against the wall next to the kitchen door, I already have ten or so big paintings finished plus four or five small ones, something like that, fourteen paintings in all in two stacks next to each other by the kitchen door, since I’m about to have a show, most of the paintings are approximately square, as they put it, I think, but sometimes I also paint long narrow ones and the one with the two lines crossing is noticeably oblong, as they put it, but I don’t want to put this one into the show because I don’t like it much, maybe all things considered it’s not really a painting, just two lines, or maybe I want to keep it for myself and not sell it? I like to keep my best pictures, not sell them, and maybe this is one of them, even though I don’t like it? yes, maybe I do want to hold onto it even if you might say it’s a failed painting? I don’t know why I’d want to keep it, with the bunch of other pictures I have up in the attic, in a storage room, instead of getting rid of it, or maybe, anyway, maybe Åsleik wants the picture? yes, to give Sister as a Christmas present? because every year during Advent I give him a painting that he gives to Sister as a Christmas present and I get meat and fish and firewood and other things from him, yes, and I mustn’t forget, as Åsleik always says, that he shovels the snow from my driveway in the winter too, yes, he says things like that too, and when I say what a painting like that can sell for in Bjørgvin Åsleik says he can’t believe people would pay so much for a painting, anyway whoever does pay that much money must have a lot of it, he says, and I say I know what you mean about it being a lot of money, I think so too, and Åsleik says well in that case he’s getting a really good deal, in that case it’s a very expensive Christmas present he’s giving Sister every year, he says, and I say yes, yes, and then we both fall silent, and then I say that I do give him a little money for the salt-cured lamb ribs for Christmas, dry-cured mutton, salt cod, firewood, and for shovelling the snow, maybe a bag with some groceries that I bought in Bjørgvin when I’ve gone there to run an errand, I say, and he says, a little embarassed, yes I do do that, fair’s fair, he says, and I think I shouldn’t have said that, Åsleik doesn’t want to accept money or anything else from me, but when I think about how I have enough money to get by and he has almost none, yes, well, I slip him a few more bills, quickly, furtively, as if neither of us knows it’s happening, and when I go run errands in Bjørgvin I always buy something for Åsleik, I think, because I may not make much money but he makes almost nothing compared to me, I think, and I look at the stack of finished paintings with the homemade stretchers they’re on facing out and every painting has a title painted in thick black oil paint on the top board of the stretcher, and the painting I’m looking at the back of, at the front of the stack, is called And the Waves Beat Their Message, titles are very important to me, they’re part of the picture itself, and I always paint the title in black on the top of the stretcher, I make my stretchers myself, I always have and I always will as long as I paint pictures, I think, and I think that there may actually be too many paintings here for a show but I’ll take them all to The Beyer Gallery anyway, Beyer can put some of them in the side room of the gallery, in The Bank, as he calls the room where he stores pictures that aren’t in the show, I think, and then I take another look at the picture with the two lines crossing, both in impasto as they put it, and the paint has run a little and where the lines cross the colours have turned such a strange colour, a beautiful colour, with no name, they usually don’t have names because obviously there can’t be names for all the countless colours in the world, I think and I step a few feet back from the picture and stop and look at it and then turn off the light and stand there looking at the picture in the dark, because it’s dark outside, at this time of year it’s dark, or almost dark, all day long, I think and I look at the picture and my eyes get used to the darkness and I see the lines, see them cross, and I see that there’s a soft light in the painting, yes, a soft invisible light, well then yes so it probably is a good painting, maybe, I think, and I don’t want to look at the picture any more, I think, but still I’m standing and looking at it, I have to stop looking at it now, I think, and then I look at the round table over by the window, there are two chairs next to it and one of them, the one on the left, that’s where I sat and sit, and the right-hand one was where Ales always sat, when she was still alive, but then she died, too young, and I don’t want to think about that, and my sister Alida, she died too young too, and I don’t want to think about that either, I think, and I see myself sitting there in my chair looking out at the fixed point in the waters of the Sygne Sea that I always look at, my landmark, with the tops of the pines that grow below my house in the middle of the centre pane in the bisected window, in the right-hand part, because the window is divided in two and both parts can be opened and each side is divided into three rows and the tops of the pines will be in the middle row of the right side and I can make out the pines and I’ve found the mark, right at the midline I can see waves out there in the darkness and I see myself sitting there looking at the waves and I see myself walking over to my car where it’s parked in front of The Beyer Gallery, I’m there in my long black coat with my brown leather bag over my shoulder, I’ve just been to The Coffeehouse, I didn’t have much of an appetite, I often don’t, and just skip dinner, but today I’ve had a simple open-faced ground-beef sandwich with onions and now the day’s over and I’ve bought everything I wanted to buy in Bjørgvin so now it’s time for me to drive home to Dylgja, after all it’s a long drive, I think, and I get into the car, I put the brown shoulderbag down on the passenger seat and start the car and then leave Bjørgvin the way Beyer taught me, one day he showed me the way, showed me how to drive into Bjørgvin and out of Bjørgvin, how to get to The Beyer Gallery and then leave The Beyer Gallery the same way going in the opposite direction, I think, and I’m driving out of Bjørgvin and I fall into the nice stupor you can get into while you’re driving and I realize I’m driving right past the apartment building where Asle lives, in Sailor’s Cove, right at the edge of the sea, there’s a little wharf in front of it, I think, and I see Asle lying there on his sofa and he’s shaking, his whole body’s shivering, and Asle thinks can’t this shaking stop? and he’s thinking he slept on the couch last night because he couldn’t get up and get undressed and go lie down in bed, and the dog, he couldn’t even, Bragi, the dog, couldn’t go outside, and he’s still drunk, he thinks, really drunk, and he needs to stop shaking so badly, his whole body’s shaking, not just his hands, Asle thinks and he thinks that now he really has to get up and go to the kitchen and get a little something to drink to stop the shaking, because last night he didn’t get undressed and go to bed, no, he just stayed where he was and passed out on the sofa, he thinks, and now he’s lying here staring into space while his body keeps shaking, he thinks, and everything is, yes, what is it? an emptiness? a nothingness? a distance? yes, maybe yes, yes maybe it’s a distance, he thinks 



Winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature

What makes us who we are? And why do we lead one life and not another? The year is coming to a close and 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 life, death, love, light and shadow, faith and hopelessness. Written in melodious and hypnotic ‘slow prose’, The Other Name: Septology I-II is an indelible and poignant exploration of the human condition by Jon Fosse, ‘a major European writer’ (Karl Ove Knausgaard), in which everything is always there, and past and present flow together.

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


‘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 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, which is only the first part of what promises to be a major work of Scandinavian fiction.’
— Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears

‘Beautifully and movingly strange .... Septology showcases a static protagonist who stares endlessly at a painting, seeking its meaning while ruminating on his past. The book sounds, in summary, terrible: pretentious, self-serious, unendurable. This makes it all the more remarkable how wonderful it is. The book evades all those pitfalls to become something quite different from what it might seem, something that, like all great novels, somehow exceeds our prior idea of what a novel is. Naturally, the pleasures of plot and character, subject and setting, draw us to novels broadly, but a great novel draws us to a shadow tale at its heart: the story of its style. With Septology, Fosse has found a new approach to writing fiction, different from what he has written before and – it is strange to say, as the novel enters its fifth century – different from what has been written before. Septology feels new... Reading Septology,watching Asle progress through life and, I suspect, in parts six and seven, to the end of it, one feels – I felt – in the welter and waste of a single solitary life, the urge, inexplicably, to pray.’
Wyatt Mason, Harper’s

‘Fosse’s finest work to date.’ 
— European Literature Network

‘There is, in this book’s rhythmic accumulation of words, something incantatory and self-annihilating —something that feels almost holy.’
— Wall Street Journal

‘Over the past two decades, Jon Fosse, a playwright, poet, essayist and children’s author as well as a novelist, has won almost every award going in Norway, while his “slow prose” has gained him a cult following in English translation. He has been compared to Ibsen and Beckett, and his writing has elements of both the former’s severity and the latter’s use of insistent repetition. ...  The work simply loops and flows. The style is formal, yet with a sense of restlessness. As for plot, there is plenty. ... Fosse’s fusing of the commonplace and the existential, together with his dramatic forays into the past, make for a relentlessly consuming work: already Septology feels momentous.’
Catherine Taylor, Guardian

‘Fosse’s portrait of intersecting lives is that rare metaphysical novel that readers will find compulsively readable.’
— Publishers Weekly, starred review

‘Masterful ... From the very first word, I wanted to read the book straight through in one go. ... A brilliant novel. ... Fosse’s way of “painting” pictures in words is gripping and truly different from what can be found in any other literature. ... A simplified universe full of wonder, intensity, and warm humor.’
— Gro Jørstad Nilsen, Bergens Tidende 

‘Deeply enigmatic though never obscure, the novel presents questions [...] But to understand how completely these things elude comprehension, and to clothe their fundamental mystery in such gorgeous raiment, is an achievement no less profound.’
Dustin Illingworth, The Nation

‘A gorgeous, meditative novel by one of Europe's greatest authors. Taking place over the course of a day, a widowed painter meditates on God, love, art, addiction, and friendship. A major achievement — a novel which feels more like a symphony or a sculpture than fiction. Beautifully translated by Damion Searls.’
Mark Haber, Buzzfeed

‘Only Jon Fosse can write like this! ... New readers who want to experience true art have reason to rejoice over The Other Name: Septology I-II. The first part of Fosse’s long-awaited magnum opus Septology is here. And Fosse delivers: he creates pictures in words and voices like no one else. An underlying feeling of something fragile and precious is what drives the action, as if breakdown and despair were constantly threatening, just below the surface.’
— Sindre Hovdennak, VG

‘Masterful from Jon Fosse ... this might be the key work in his career. ... The musical, poetic, and extraordinarily tangible, sensual prose conjures up a slightly schematic but always mystical landscape that sucks the reader in.’
— Marius Wulfsberg

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

‘Fosse has been compared to Ibsen and to Beckett, and it is easy to see his work as Ibsen stripped down to its emotional essentials. But it is much more. For one thing, it has a fierce poetic simplicity.’
— New York Times

‘Undoubtedly one of the world’s most important and versatile literary voices.’
— Irish Examiner

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

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.