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The Seducer by Jan Kjaerstad

The Seducer (1993)

by Jan Kjaerstad

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The Seducer Jan Kjaerstad
★★★★★ ♥

The Seducer opens with Jonas Wergeland returning home to discover his wife's dead body on the floor of their home, from that moment on we are taken on a journey through Jonas' life by an omniscient narrator who wishes to remain anonymous.

Jonas Wergeland is a Norwegian national treasure a TV star and darling of the people the narrator takes us back through his history in a non chronological order to show how he arrived at the point the book opens. The narrative moves forwards and backwards in time because as the narrator tells us "Anyone wishing to understand Jonas Wergeland's life will first have to dispense with the belief that the passage of time says anything about cause and effect"

This book has elements of magical realism, Jonas knows when he will love a woman by a tingling in his spine and shoulders and every woman that he makes love to transfer to him a power that is unique to them and makes him a better more accomplished individual.

The narrator tells us that Jonas has a magical penis, yep you read that right a magical penis! this means that he is a great lover and his penis suits every woman who experiences it (yes I really did just write that) Normally this kind of allusion in books is enough to have me rolling my eyes and yes some of the sex scenes are to say the least weird, which would turn me off a book normally, however in this story they are an essential part of the narrative they are not just there to titillate or repulse unlike some books I have read recently (Story of the Eye and Crash I am looking at you) the sex scenes are actually about love and sharing and lead to Jonas growing as a person so I can forgive them.

Parts of the book are almost written like a poem there are a couple of sections where the narrator uses the term "you think" at the start of each new sentence and this repetition gives a rhythm to the narrative rather like the noise of a train coming down the tracks.

This is a fantastic book and I really don't think I can do it justice in a review even if I allowed myself to give away spoilers, I have finished the book and I am left with a happy glow a feeling caused solely by how much I loved this story.

Here are some of my favourite quotes;

"And standing there in that living room gazing at the map of the world covered in all those red pins, he struggled to grasp an idea which obviously, at the age he then was, he did not manage to formulate clearly in his mind, but which he would spend much of his life endeavouring to confirm: that every country contains the whole world. And that the whole world contains something of Norway"

"Sir William is not merely an uncle, Sir William is Norway, disguised in a blue blazer and gold cravat, a nouveau riche upstart"

"at this moment, which is to say the moment which I have chosen to form the hub of this spinning narrative in which I keep picking spokes at random, something which I can do because I know that all of the spokes run from the outer rim to the centre and that chronology is not the same as causality"

"This gave Jonas a desire to know more about the Hades of mythology and that, in turn, is how he stumbled upon the dog Cerberus. From the stars to Hell - but still only a short hop"

"I think what I am trying to say is that every human being could be said to be as much an accumulation of stories as of molecules. I am, in part all the things I have read over the years. They don't leave me. They settle inside me like - how can I put it? - like sediment"

" and now you realize, now you know, you have known it ever since you were very young, that life can only be comprehended as a collection of stories"

"and finally, and first of all, and at the centre of it all: the story of the hub, because there is meaning to life, there are so many meanings to life that at least once on the journey from the cradle to the grave every human being will experience something that will move them to exclaim, quite spontaneously: Yes there has to be some meaning to life"
( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |

This is a very long book and it is quite amazing to me that any one writer can have this much life experience and still be capable of telling about it. And keep it interesting. Even if research offered the many historical facts adjusted as fiction and presented as anecdotes I would still find it remarkable that Jan Kjærstad could actually pull it off as well as he did. It is a long life story of Norwegian TV celebrity Jonas Wergeland told in circles and repeats, ending at a certain point when the weary traveler and star of his show discovers the love of his life flat-out on a polar bear rug dead-red in their home after being murdered with a Luger. For an enormous number of pages the narrator relates the many stories connected to the life of Jonas Wergeland and how these events all contributed to the dreadful result we are faced with in the very early pages of the novel. The mystery the book blurbs promise it to to be never quite measures up, though the revealing and tantalizing anecdotes all add to a quite suspenseful and fulfilling climax.

There is no possible way in which I might explain this novel. I can say however that as I perhaps too eagerly updated my wife these last few days about each extremely wonderful experience I had while reading this novel she finally replied, “It sounds like a Wes Anderson movie.” So the very best I can do now would be to inform anyone already enamored with the work of screenwriter/filmmaker Wes Anderson that this book is completely up their alley. Throughout the revolving myriad of countless stories related page after page regarding this fascinating life of Jonas Wergeland one is immediately struck by the eccentricities, curiosities, dangers, and clever results in all his affairs. Jonas is quite an amazing individual as are the unlikely heroes in every Wes Anderson film. Over-the-top is an understatement but it makes the reading experience absurdly fun.

A continuing theme for me throughout this first book of a trilogy is how everything is always connected. Each chapter in one way or another returns to visit a previously told story or adds something or other to an unfinished business. I failed to count the many chapters but there are numerous anecdotes involved in getting to know this man Jonas and the principle influences that made up his life. There are several memorable and important characters we meet along the way. By the end of the book almost every question of fate is answered except for the initial mystery of his good wife’s death. I suppose that being the paramount reason for the author making this work a trilogy.

It is quite unfair to focus on the almost undo importance given to Jonas’s “magic penis” or the phallic symbol his aunt employed as a life-long artistic obsession. The truth is that most young men are a bit too interested in that thing between their legs, as are some women perhaps, but there is really nothing to be done about it. Denying, ridiculing, or shaming only makes it worse. But the interesting development in this book for me regarding this phallic obsession is that Jonas himself never seems overly impressed or even brazenly brags about his manly gift. Jonas always is the wanted one in a sexual relationship, which to some of us just might be a mutual fantasy not often shared. He was never the initiator of any of the sexual behaviors in the first place, and for the most part always during the act itself remained on his back on the bottom. And what seemed both beautiful and amazing to the narrator of this tale was the unlikely fact that this magic organ could fairly accommodate and satisfy any wanting vessel, be it large or small. But the book was far beyond such a seemingly shallow thing as this magic penis. It was achingly more about a real tingling up his spine that would climb up and into his shoulders. It was about owning and using his imagination, exploring and revealing human nature, and understanding the world we live in a bit outside of the box rather than remaining stubbornly stuck in our given notions of things as they are.

Given that Jan Kjærstad, like me, was also born in 1953 added more of a connection to his writing. Having the novel placed in the same time period I grew up in offered opportunities galore for me to remember and reflect upon too. I smiled often and always felt satisfied. This is rare in a book for me. In absence of any good explanation of what actually occurred between the covers for me, the bottom line for what I took away from reading this novel was a poignant reminder that life can be comprehended only as a collection of stories. In good time I look forward to my continued reading of the remaining two books in this trilogy. ( )
  MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
Wow, read it on Manny's recommendation and can only say it was worth the effort. Am now on the second. I like the concept, I like the style, the telling of all the many yarns ismaking my mind spin in a wonderful way. ( )
  Des2 | Mar 31, 2013 |
Sub-Proustian phallocentric twaddle. I'm actually quite upset that this managed to win the Nordic Prize for Literature in 2001. Scandanavian cinema is great, so I was hoping to be similarly impressed with a foray into the region's literature but this was unfinishable. If I feel the need to be told again and again about the magic of a protagonist's penis, I'll watch Boogie Nights for the nth time rather than opening up this. At least in the film there's a gripping plot!
  mujinga | May 5, 2012 |
the Seducer by Jan Kjaerstad, said to be an international best seller and winner of Scandinavia's top literary award, the Nordic prize. That would seem to be a good recommendation and the jacket further says: Jonah Wergeland, a successful TV documentary producer returns one evening from the World's Fair in Seville to find his wife dead on the living room floor. What follows is a quest to find the killer, encompassing by turns a picaresque and endlessly inventive look at the conditions that brought Wergeland to this critical juncture in life.

So, I thought, oh, a mystery, and given the awards, possibly of the caliber of P.D. James. With that I read the whole 606 pages. Well, the man found his wife in the first chapter. From that point on I waited for the quest for her killer. SPOILER ALERT There is no quest for her killer, at least not in this book, though, as it is a trilogy perhaps that quest is to be found in one of the following two books, which I will not read.

So, after chapter one, it goes off on another story, which I expected to return at some point to his dead wife, and it did, at intervals, it just never got out of the living room. He finally called the police in the last few pages. So, it goes into a background story, which likewise gets interrupted by another tangent and this goes on and on. And, all these stories kind of have the same frame, which is, if you were to imagine a parent going on and on about their son and daughter - not only about their achievements - but about every event in that child's life which led to them achieving this thing, even including the accidents of their particular friends and parents. And also telling you all about their existential crises and how they resolved them. There are some interesting bits in these stories, but they are all told with the point of how they affected the consciousness of our hero, and there are many, many things that are fairly trivial, or the common musings of adolescence or early 20's.

I think the best bit began on p 596, a chapter titled Spring about meeting his future wife (they had been a couple at junior high school, or middle school age) and realizing he'd been in love with her all long. Had that been at the beginning I might have gotten involved with the person, but instead I was offered all this how remarkable he was garbage, and, for me, the story simply never began.

I did rate it 1/2 but that was merely because it was the lowest I could rate it and still have it register. It was a tremendous waste of time. ( )
5 vote solla | Aug 13, 2009 |
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"Jonas Wergeland is a successful TV documentary producer and also something of God's gift to women, with balls of gold, as one newspaper puts it. One day he returns from the World's Fair in Seville and discovers his wife dead on the living-room floor. What follows is a quest to find the killer but more than that is a playful look at how our hero has arrived at this particular juncture in a life full of twists and turns. Like the time a cruise ship nearly ran him down as a child. Now, however, he was on board an old lifeboat, examining a row of onion layers arranged on a plate, before finally looking up to meet the eye of an old actor, well-oiled by now, who lit another Camel and was soon enveloped in a cloud of smoke. "Be a duke," he repeated, but Jonas had lost the thread, he had caught a whiff of danger, although he could not have said what it might be: a drifting iceberg perhaps, of the Skipper Clement, now only a few hundred metres away from them in the darkness and looking, from the shore, like a resplendent floating palace.'"--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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