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T Singer by Dag Solstad

T Singer (original 1999; edition 2018)

by Dag Solstad (Author)

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1244152,623 (3.86)4
T Singer begins with thirty-four-year-old Singer graduating from library school and traveling by train from Oslo to the small town of Notodden, located in the mountainous Telemark region of Norway. There he plans to begin a deliberately anonymous life as a librarian. But Singer unexpectedly falls in love with the ceramicist Merete Saethre, who has a young daughter from a previous relationship. After a few years together, the couple is on the verge of separating, when a car accident prompts a dramatic change in Singer's life. The narrator of the novel specifically states that this is not a happy story, yet, as in all of Dag Solstad's works, the prose is marked by an unforgettable combination of humor and darkness. Overall,T Singer marks a departure more explicitly existential than any of Solstad's previous works. … (more)
Title:T Singer
Authors:Dag Solstad (Author)
Info:New Directions (2018), 272 pages
Collections:Your library

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T. Singer : roman by Dag Solstad (1999)



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» See also 4 mentions

Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  English (1)  All languages (4)
The idea of writing a book with a "black hole" for a central character

This book presents itself as an experiment: the principal character, Singer, doesn't have much character (he has less, for example, than "The Man Without Qualities"). He has little energy or daring, and he is easily mortified (Kafka's characters come to mind as comparisons). Several times in the book Solstad asks (in the authorial voice, as metafictional asides) why the book is centered on such a person; but those are rhetorical questions, because the novel is an experiment in an empty center.

Singer is necessarily an unreliable narrator, simply because there are people in his life who feel things strongly, and have wider interests and concerns, and he doesn't quite register them. But the novel isn't driven by the difficulties that unreliable narrators can present; we don't really need to figure out the characters that Singer can't, or won't, understand. It's a matter of trying to construct a novel around an absence. "T. Singer" shows how difficult it can be to stop readers from thinking too much about what the narrator gets wrong, and what sorts of people his friends and relatives really are.

The novel also demonstrates that it's not easy to create real blankness. Singer's character isn't as blank as Bartleby's; we get to know him, and once we're a couple of dozen pages in, we recognize his preoccupations. (He worries, for example, that when he's invited to a dinner with people he only knows slightly, that he'll be able to choose a chair that isn't hemmed in by people, so he won't bother them when he has to excuse himself to go to the bathroom.) He isn't a blank at all, despite the author's apostrophes, and Singer's enumerable qualities turn out to be good ones: patience, flexibility, social aptitude, consistency, affability, and a limited introspection.

A third problem with an absent central character is that his actions inevitably imply character. Solstad doesn't consistently present or control his character's absence. The last forty pages are full of pathos about Singer's relationship with his stepdaughter. At first she has no friends, since her mother has died and they've moved to Oslo. He can't figure out how to fix that, and he's enormously relieved when he comes home one day and hears his stepdaughter playing with another girl. These forty or so pages create strong sympathy for the character, but in the book's first half I think readers wouldn't feel anything stronger than affection or bemusement.


Appendix: a couple of questions

There's a crucial page right at the end of the book, which raises questions I can't answer. I set them out here in case someone who has read the original might help.

Singer is in his apartment with his daughter and her friends.

"Surrounded by spirited young ladies, with all their sweetness, we find ourselves together with Singer in a novel tht is like a big black hole. Why is Singer the main character in this novel?" [p. 219]

This is well put, and like Solstad's other metanarrative moments, well judged in tone and rhetorical address. However I don't understand what comes just before it:

"By the way, in every novel there is a big black hole, which is univerdal in its blackness, and this novel has now reached that point."

Is this intended to mean that no character can be fully known, so every novel is built around a vacuum? That seems implausible in the novel's own logic, because we've been told, and shown, that Singer has a singular absence of motivation, self-knowledge, empathy, and so forth. Why write a novel about such a person if everyone is like that?
I also don't understand a line that comes later on the same page:

"I wish I could have said something that Singer wouldn't be able to ponder... my language ceases when Singer's pondering ceases."

These are two different things, logically speaking. (They contradict one another.) In addition, the first sentence is clearly wrong on its own terms, because the narrator has told us many things Singer doesn't ponder. I wonder if this is a problem in translation.
If anyone can eludicate these, please leave a comment.
1 vote JimElkins | Oct 19, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dag Solstadprimary authorall editionscalculated
Nunnally, TiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Singer led av en säregen form av skamkänsla, som alls inte anfäktade honom dagligen, men som dök upp då och då, som en påminnelse om ett pinsamt missförstånd av ett eller annat slag, och som fick honom att stanna upp, stel som en pinne, ,ed ett förtvivlat uttryck i ansiktet, som han genast dolde genom att föra upp bägge händerna framför det, medan han högljutt utbrast: -Nej, nej.
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