book of the week: the half brother
The first thing you’ll notice about this Norwegian novel called The Half Brother is its thickness. It’s huge. Despite of the fact that I’m deeply in love with reading, I get scared from really thick books sometimes. To start reading something which has more than 400 pages feels like a serious commitment and this makes me nervous. Fortunately thick books are rarely disappointing. The last time I quit trying to appreciate the enormous length of a novel was when I gave a shot to Foucault’s Pendulum written by Umberto Eco. I’m sure the problem was that I’m not well read enough to be able to interpret his seemingly unnecessary and unending descriptions of random stuff as pure art. At least the book cover is pretty. (And now I’ll end up in hell for admitting things like that, but what can I do?)
Getting back to the main topic: don’t let to be affected by the number of pages in the The Half Brother. Because it’s not only the author who got and will get carried away by the story 😉 When I finished the last sentence I felt sad, because I wanted to read more. So I watched the TV-series which is based on the book. It’s quite good actually, just a little less tricky and a little more obvious than the novel itself. You can see the trailer below:
The narrator Barnum Nilsen – the youngest member of a matriarchal and strange Norwegian family – tries to accept his past by writing it down. The story is centered around a tragedy, which could be labelled as bittersweet from the family’s point of view: on Norway’s liberation day Vera – Barnum’s mother – is raped. Because of this trauma she doesn’t say a thing until her first child, Fred, is born. Fred is beloved by all, but his almost idyllic life disappears when a mysterious ugly man wins his mother’s heart and marries her, an endless battle begins between Fred and the stranger. Eventually it reaches the point of no return what only one of them survives.
Barnum adores his half brother despite of their complicated relationship or Fred’s troubled personality. Most of the time Fred is angry or impatient with him, and Barnum is the one who is beside Fred in the darkest times in his young life and witnesses unbearable things. No matter what happens, Barnum tries to impress him all his life – even after Fred leaves them for good. This unconditional brotherly love is at the same time the most beautiful thing and the strongest handcuffs in Barnum’s life. And not only in his. Fred’s love for his little brother is less obvious, but you can spot it from time to time and when you do it, tears will flow.
The motto “It’s not what you see that matters, but what you think you see” of Barnum’s father could be the motto of the story too. We, readers, can only see the surface of the events, but what lies underneath is left for our imagination. And that’s one of the best tricks of the author, he never reveals a secret entirely. This way we become a member in this strange family, where being mute is a tradition and where everyone seems to know why it’s the only solution.
Half brother and whole women
This book could be an ode to women, matriarchy an feminism. We get to know 4 generations of women, who all were left alone by men for various reasons, but build a strong, vibrant and graceful environment – a state within a state – where there’s no such thing as shame or hierarchy. The term “half brother” doesn’t exist, it’s just a label used by the society.
Many critics say it’s a story about silence and lies. But I think it’s a story about the importance of small gestures and the greatness of their impact when coming from a loving heart. And sure, sometimes a lie can be the most valuable gift we can give each other. Right, Barnum?
Author: Lars Saabye Christensen
Title: The Half Brother