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The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
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The Unseen (2013)

by Roy Jacobsen

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This the fourth novel by Roy Jacobsen that I've read to date, and on balance, I'd have to say that it's the best (I still haven't quite finished reading 'Borders', which I found tedious, in the end). The story is told in elegantly spare prose, at least, in the translation of the Dons Bartlett and Shaw (it'd take me the twenty or so years of the book's time span to read the original with my limited Norwegian). The setting and subject matter themselves are elemental - the struggles of a family on a remote island farm, some time ago - and lend the novel a pleasing, fable-like feel. The characters are all well-drawn and the sparse dialogue is rendered in a hybrid of English and Norwegian to reflect the islanders' dialect. There's a relentless trajectory to their yearly battles with the elements. And all the stuff of life is here - the terrors, the dreams, the conflicts and disappointments, but the moments of contentment also. The descriptions of the landscape are fabulous, all the more so, perhaps, if you know this part of the world at all.

And I've just found out, this is the first book in the 'Ingrid Barrøy Trilogy'. How exciting! The other two have already been written, so presumably English readers will have a year or two to wait while books two and three are translated.

I felt the book lost focus somewhat towards the end with too many improbable occurrences, but the remainder of the book was so strong, for me, it didn't spoil the enjoyment of it. Ingrid's story adds another title to the list of coming-of-age classics. ( )
  PZR | Jul 28, 2018 |
A fascinating portrait of one family’s challenges in surviving and improving their lot in a hostile environment. The relationship between the family and their one-farmstead island off the coast of Norway is at the heart of the book but doesn’t overwhelm their internal struggles or the impact of the (slightly )wider world. 16 December 2017 ( )
  alanca | Dec 17, 2017 |
What is the meaning of this novel's enigmatic title? For me, "The Unseen" are the book's protagonists, the Barrøys, who own and live on one of the tiny, remote islands off the coast of Norway - aptly named Barrøy. When the novel starts, the Barrøys are old widower Martin, his son Hans (who has recently assumed the mantle of "head of the family"), Hans's wife Maria, their toddler daughter Ingrid and Hans's sister Barbro, who is "not quite there". "The Unseen" follows the fate of the Barrøys over roughly three decades. This might make it sound like a "family saga" or even an updated "Nordic saga", except that, instead of epic battles against gods and monsters, we witness the Barrøys' daily challenges as they toil to eke out a living from the island's soil and the surrounding sea.

From hints throughout the book, we get the feel that the novel is set roughly a hundred years ago, but the story it relates has a feeling of timelessness, an eternity marked by the recurring seasons. The sun rises and sets. The years roll by. Storms rage, wreak havoc and recede. Children are born. So are lambs. Old men die. So do cows. There are brushes with death - the sea sustains life but it can also take it away. The surrounding world tries to stake its claim over the island, as when there is an insistence that Barrøy be put on the milk route, or when the price of Barrøy's produce is determined by the Mainland's fickle rules of supply and demand. But Barrøy lives on in splendid isolation as a new generation of Barrøys proudly continues the family traditions.

The novel's language, as rendered in the joint translation by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, is poetic yet lean and blunt. There are plenty of pages of nature writing, but nowhere does it become florid or overly sentimental. Use of dialogue is spare, which is a good thing as the thick dialect of the islanders is conveyed in a dense form of English (I wonder if it is an invented form of speech or based on an actual dialect).

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that The Unseen became a bestseller in Jacobsen's native Norway. It's a striking novel, but no page-turner. Its beauty is as austere as light refracted through a glacier. And just as memorable.

An ebook version of the novel was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jul 5, 2017 |
Showing 3 of 3
"De usynlige er en kontemplativ roman om livet ute i havgapet på 1920-tallet. Bare en god forfatter som Roy Jacobsen kan lande en slik bok, der forfatteren ikke lener seg på en rikholdig handlingsstruktur ... Dette er en suveren roman. Presisjonsnivået er frydefullt, språket er poetisk. Roy Jacobsen holder koken. Han har blikket og evnene til å formidle sannheten om mennesket. Resultatet blir stor kunst."
 
"...mesterskapet hans består i at han setter sine ofte hardt prøvede personer i en så ekstremt fysisk og følbar bevegelse at leseren opplever en nærmest optimal deltagelse i både sinn og skinn. Jacobsens prosa er jordnær ved å være himmelhøy og himmelhøy ved å være jordnær. Den puster fullstendig fritt ... skjønnlitteratur av høy, høy klasse. Ganske enkelt."
 
De usynlige er rett og slett ei uvanleg fengslande og viktig bok. Det er også ei bok med mange lause trådar som ikkje krev, men som i allefall opnar for fleire bøker. Sjølv om den store historia om desse øyane er kjent, skulle eg gjerne følgt Ingrid og Lars og dei andre gjennom livet.
added by annek49 | editNRK, Marta Norheim (Aug 16, 2013)
 
"...en fortelling om utarmede nordmenn på en liten øy uti havgapet på Helgelandskysten. Boka er Roy Jacobsen på sitt aller beste ... Det er sider ved denne romanen som kunne gjort den sentimental, hvis den hadde vært skrevet av en dårligere forfatter. Men Jacobsen er helt suveren på denne type fortellinger ... Det er så mye poesi i språket hans, så mye hav og himmel og slit og vind og vær. Han skriver så ukunstlet, så presist, så poetisk ... «De usynlige» er rett og slett en helt fantastisk roman."
 
Terningkast 6

"...imponerende research ligger til grunn, om liv og levekår i en fiskerfamilie i årene mellom 1913 og 1928 på Helgelandskysten, ute mot storhavet ... Det er rett og slett en vakker og bevegende leseropplevelse, en ubesværet veksling mellom små mellommenneskelige hendelser og de store dramatiske - som skildringene av storm og vind og uvær ... Roy Jacobsen gjør ikke bare de fine menneskeskikkelsene synlige - for alltid - han gjør leseren klokere. En mesters hånd som gjør det lille stort."
 
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Ingrid Barray is born on an island that bears her name - a holdfast for a single family, their livestock, their crops, their hopes and dreams. Her father dreams of building a quay that will connect them to the mainland, but closer ties to the wider world come at a price. Her mother has her own dreams - more children, a smaller island, a different life - and there is one question Ingrid must never ask her. Island life is hard, a living scratched from the dirt or trawled from the sea, so when Ingrid comes of age, she is sent to the mainland to work for one of the wealthy families on the coast. But Norway too is waking up to a wider world, a modern world that is capricious and can be cruel. Tragedy strikes, and Ingrid must fight to protect the home she thought she had left behind.… (more)

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