Jan 26, 2010

Naïve. Super by Erlend Loe

Naïve. Super by Erlend Loe

Naïve. Super opens shortly after its unnamed narrator's twenty-fifth birthday. He describes what happened then, and what follows could perhaps be called a quarter-life crisis: he loses his sense of purpose, drops out of graduate school, and moves into his brother's currently empty apartment, where he reads a science book about the nature of time that strikes him as alternately terrifying and comforting, makes lists, and befriends a five-year-old neighbour. The making lists thing won me over right away, because it's something I can so see myself doing: lists of things that used to excite him as a child; of what his life has and what it lacks; of all the animals he has seen; of animals he's like to see; of things that make him happy; of products he has become emotionally attached to; and so on.

For the first few chapters, I felt somewhat disconnected from Naïve. Super, but that was only because the voice and the writing take some getting used to. Also, it hit me after a while that the narrator sounded quite a bit younger than twenty-five to me. This is something I've seen people say about Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (of which this book reminded me a little), but that I don't think I'd ever felt before about any book. But all it took was some mental readjusting for it to stop bothering me, which happened quickly enough. Perhaps my sense of dissonance came from the fact that I experienced the sort of crisis he's going through at seventeen - but as he says:
I am not ashamed about having thoughts like these. Maybe I should have had them before. I don't know when people think about these kinds of things. Some probably do it as early as age fifteen. I didn't. But I'm thinking about them now. And I'm not ashamed. The whole point of sitting in this flat is just so that I can have these kinds of thought. I hope that things get better when I'm finished thinking.
He's right; there's nothing to be ashamed of. The other reason why I quoted this passage is because I wanted to show you what the style is like - the short sentences, the casual language, the apparent simplicity, behind which lurk big ideas, scary thoughts, and real and often overwhelming feelings. There's nothing actually naïve about Naïve. Super, I don't think. Nor cutesy, despite the narrator's habit of coping with problems by going to the toy store to get himself something. It's a book about the very real loneliness, purposelessness, lack of enthusiasm, and fear we might be losing our minds that most of experience at one point or another in our lives.

Let me tell you why I decided to get this book, as I think it'll help me make the point I'm trying to make: first, it's mentioned in a song by my new favourite band, Allo, Darlin'. There are worse reasons to buy a book, right? Secondly, a few days after noticing the reference, I also noticed that another band I love, The Boy Least Likely To, lists it as a favourite book on their sidebar. So I ordered it. And the reason why I'm telling you this is because I think the kind of universe these bands create in their music (example) is similar to the universe of this book. It may seem light and bouncy and cute and naïve, but actually, it deals with the Big Stuff.

...it's much like that funny and sarcastic friend you have; the one who, in a light voice and in-between jokes, and also without seeming to make much of it at all, will talk to you about Big Things. When you get home and think back on the conversation, you realise it was actually pretty personal and delicate and important. And for a moment you wish that this fact had sunk in back then, so you could have - actually, nevermind. You couldn't have done anything differently, because you knew then and know now that the slightly detached manner in which you talked and the casual tone of the conversation is the only way either of you can handle having a conversation that makes you feel so vulnerable.

Reading Naïve. Super was a bit like talking to one of those friends. And it was an excellent book.

(Have you posted about it to? Let me know and I'll add your link here.)

25 comments:

  1. I stumbled upon this book by total accident one day when my local bookshop did a display of fiction in translation. What a joy it was, it ended up being a one-sitting read.

    I love your description of it as a conversation with a funny friend that occasionally slips in something Important without you realising. So very true.

    I thought I had blogged on this book, but I can't find my post. Perhaps I only ever intended to.

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  2. I like the style of this review, Ana, as if you are that funny, bookish friend sitting down and telling us about great book (oh, wait, you are...)

    I've had this on my wish-list for some time - time to do something about that.

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  3. In my mind, there is no better reason to choose a book! I would do the same thing. That was an excellent review!

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  4. It definitely sounds like an interesting read. I like the sounds of the lists, they will always appeal to me.

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  5. I don't remember ever even hearing of this book before...I'm so happy you changed that, because this really sounds like a book I would love. (Truthfully, I was completely sold with the list thing...everything else you said was just icing on the cake. :D)

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  6. I love the sound of this one, and hadn't heard of it before. Thanks for this review.

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  7. I think I went through this about 22 or 23 years old, and I know a lot of people who hit it right in that early 20s stage. I love the list thing.

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  8. I like the idea of the lists too. Just the ones you cited sound very fun to think about for the reader as well as the character!

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  9. I do think a 25 year old male might be about as mature as a 17 year old female, so maybe the voice was right. The book does sound interesting to me.

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  10. I loved the Perks of being a wallflower, so sounds like I'd like this one too. It's actually been on my wishlist for a while, as someone else raved about it - but I can't remember who!

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  11. This seems like a very unique book. Your review makes me want to pick it up and get reading! The cover is also very interesting - I like it.

    Emidy
    Une Parole

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  12. Thank you, Nymeth, this is going on my list! And I really like the idea of a quarter-life crisis. Is it predictive, then? I had mine at 27, so that would mean I'll live to be 108! . . . or no, maybe that was my mid-life crisis. Or the crisis I had when I was 30 was mid-life, which works out okay for the one when I was 14 being my quarter-life crisis, but what about the one when I was 19? Oh, never mind.

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  13. This sounds very interesting. The cover is very eye-catching, too! The way you describe the narrator sounds like someone I knew well back in my mid-20s, so I'm going to have to read this someday (writing down title/author right now)

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  14. You've got some of the most interesting book choices, and I really love your review of this one. I might just put a hold on it from the library now!!

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  15. this sounds interesting, and I like that cover.
    thats cool that this book was mentioned in a song by your fav band :) thats a unique way to find your next read!
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  16. I absolutely adore this book and have read it it several times since my girlfriend (who happens to be Elizabeth from Allo Darlin'...small world, eh) recommended it to me. I even bought a 'hammer and peg' from Amazon :)

    Being Swedish I'm also lucky enough to have read several of Erlend Loe's other novels, all of which are great in their own quirky ways. Unfortunately, I think this is the only one that's readily available in English. Along with 'Life After God' it's one of my favorite short novels and inspirational reads.

    Nik
    Records Make Great Pets

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  17. I think I would have picked up this book solely on its unique title!

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  18. I don't know those bands, nor have I read this book, but your explanation still makes total sense to me.

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  19. This is immediately going on my list of to be reads. I love lists too, and this just sounds like something that isn't to be missed.

    I'm in the mood for an updated, older Perks of Being a Wallflower anyhow.

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  20. I can honestly say I've never even heard of this book! But I like the cover!! And it totally sounds like a "me" book. So, yeah...I'm sure I will be adding this to the list of books I need to read!!

    Great review!

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  21. Though I don't know either the books or the band, I totally get what you want to say. I loved your thoughts on this book, and I will probably recommend this one to a couple of my friends too, who I think would do well with it.

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  22. Good day, sun shines!! Get you some income!! LOL...anyway...Oh Ana I just want to hug this post :) It's wonderful. I've never heard of this book before but God I want it now!! It sounds wonderful. I went through something of a quarter life crisis myself and I really think I'm just getting over it and getting comfortable with myself again and where I am in life. It's a scary thing to suddenly realize that time's going by too fast and you're not happy with where you are. But then things click and a sort of acceptance comes...and it helps to have good friends :) Ok...now I'm rambling. But thanks for the wonderful review...I'm so getting this book!

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  23. Wow. What a super potent review! I am glad that you liked this one, and even more glad that you shared the reasons why. This book sounds terribly interesting and like one that I should read. The cover reminds me a bit of Fixer Chao, which was another book I think you might appreciate. Awesome review, this one is going in my basket. Thanks!

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  24. Just mentioning Perks of Being a Wallflower sold me on this book. I'll definitely be picking it up even if they aren't that similar. LOL!

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  25. Kirsty: It was a one-sitting read for me too! Let me know if you turn out to have written that post - I'd love to add your link :)

    Claire: I'd love to be that bookish friend :D I think you're really enjoy this!

    Sandy: I've done the opposite too - look for music that's mentioned in a book - so it only makes sense :D

    Vivienne: Me too. I just love making lists - and that goes a long way towards explaining my reading challenge addiction :P

    Debi: I hadn't either until recently! I don't know how I missed it.

    Amanda: You're welcome!

    Other Amanda: I think it can happen at any time of one's life, really!

    Jill: He was trying to cheer himself up, I guess. It worked - slowly, but I think it did :P

    Kathy: You know, when I was that age I did notice a maturity gap between boys and girls. I wonder if it's because we're expected to be responsible early on, whereas "boys will be boys"?

    Annabel: I loved Perks as well! This one's different, and yet it put me in mind of it for some time. Of Cather in the Rye as well (RIP Salinger).

    Emidy: I like the cover too - simple, but very appealing.

    Trapunto: lol, let us believe possibility a) :P All my friends seem to have gone through quarter-life crises over the past few years. I blame the pressure to be successful as early on as possible!

    Valerie, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Michelle, thank you so much!

    Naida: I LOVE it when songs mention books. And inevitably I look for them :P

    Nik: Life After God is one of my all-time favourites! I really hope more of Loe's work well get translated at some point. And I so need to try the hammer and peg thing. (You have a very talented girlfriend, by the way. I'm ridiculously excited about her upcoming album).

    Christina: Isn't it great?

    J.T. Oldfield: I'm glad to hear it! I kind of wondered whether it would to anyone other than me :P

    She: Then I think you'll love it :)

    Stephanie, I think it's a you book, yes!

    Hazra: I hope your friends enjoy it!

    Chris: lol - stupid spammers :P I'm sure you'll love this, Chris. And you know...I don't know ANYONE who hasn't gone through a quarter-life crises :P

    Zibilee: I hadn't heard of Fixer Chao, but will now look it up!

    Sam: lol - they are and they aren't. They're different, but I think they'd appeal to the same sort of person, you know?

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.