The Pastor by Hanne Orstavik

Hello wordpress my old friend, it’s time to write blog posts again…

By the end of this novel I felt that it was a perfect, pristine picture of a depressed and empty person. And I loved it.

My first impression of the book was how appealing the physical design was. It is not your normal book shape, but is very short, nearly square. The grey and black textured surface is eye-catching but not loud, and is wonderful to touch and hold. The words inside match the short, grey, unassuming shape of the exterior.

Liv is a pastor who doesn’t know why she’s a pastor. One day she suddenly doesn’t want to study economics anymore and drops her notebook in a puddle in the rain and walks into a theology class. From there she ends up studying a Sami (the indigenous people of Norway) uprising in the 1850s, and reading/interpreting the words of a pastor from that time.

The novel is very internal, consisting entirely of Liv’s scattered thoughts. From one paragraph to the next, or sometimes within the same paragraph she can suddenly be back in another time, in another place, either remembering the friend she lost, or back in the snow on a dark night in the 1850s.

The tone of the book is so steady, like a drone, in a way that perfectly captures the numbness of depression. Everything is internal and muddled and ultimately empty. The tone and flow of words never shift no matter what is happening. It is just like the landscape of northern Norway, where the story takes place: grey, flat, cold, dripping, still, white, blank, unchanging, relentlessly blank.

Liv seems unable to connect with anyone around her. Despite telling herself and the reader that she wants to ‘bind a wound’ she seems oblivious to those hurting right next to her. She multiple times is unable to speak, to connect with someone right there waiting for her to reach out. She can only see, feel, or care about her own pain, and this same behavior is what caused the tragedy that blacks her recent past.

Something about the prose just drew me in, and I was dragged along in the steady flow of words, like a cold river dragging me under. It is so subdued and flat, but it builds on itself. It burrowed into me, and left me feeling a strangely nostalgic and a bit morose about the inevitability of life’s unchanging and unchangeable factors.

This skillful piece of writing will stay in my mind for a while, and I’ll be checking out Orstavik’s other books in the near future.

The sky was just there, high above, and seemed so irrelevant, so ethereal and fleeting. I prefered the ground, its flatness. Firm soil…”

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