The Other Name: Septology I-II

Jon Fosse

Translated by Damion Searls

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