Hey everyone! It’s Nicky back again with a new book review. Last time I was talking about Sir Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, and this time (as promised at the end of the last post) I’m here to talk about Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! I read it in the English translation by Charlotte Barslund: it’s a Norwegian novel centred around a woman who doesn’t really know what she wants from life or what she’s doing, until she finds a new purpose in protesting against a new EU directive which will change the Norwegian postal service.
I have to admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. I think that’s mostly just personal taste: the translation is really readable, and it does really well at portraying a kind of dreamlike stream-of-consciousness narrative in which the main character, Ellinor, is drifting through life without doing anything of consequence. She’s not really connected to her job writing copy as a publicity consultant, she’s not really engaged with her relationships with her family or her boyfriend, and she doesn’t really know what the point of it all is. Hjorth manages to make that beautifully believable, to the point where I found it a little depressing to read myself. Once Ellinor’s inspired, her almost feverish activity comes through in the narrative as well.
Ellinor’s life is shaken up by the suicide of a member of her three-person publicity firm. She ends up having to take over one of his projects: the effort to persuade politicians and trade unions to protest against a new directive which will allow other companies to compete with the Norwegian postal service. At first they’re very pessimistic about the idea of getting people fired up about the issue, but a story about a dead letter which the postman finally manages to deliver makes her see the value in the campaign, and she manages to get her co-worker engaged with it as well. The second half(ish) of the book shows Ellinor reconnecting with the people around her as well, including trading confidences with her boyfriend, which led to one of my favourite bits:
“Sometimes when I don’t know what to do, ” he said, “I’ll write myself a letter.”
“Why? To support the Post Office?”
It was his turn to laugh.
“No, ” he said, “but when I express myself as if I’m not me, the words come to me, ” he said, “when I pretend I’m someone else, then I express myself more clearly and I send the letter to myself so I can see what I mean.” he said.
“Couldn’t you just write the letter, put it away and then take it out another time?”
“I’ve tried that, ” he said, “but it’s not the same. I have to do the whole thing, the envelope, the stamp, the post box, and then it really does work.”
Writing letters (and postcards!) is different, somehow, especially when you take the time to put it in an envelope and put a stamp on it—it’s all much more deliberate than sending an email, for instance. I’ve never tried sending myself a proper letter, but I can see how it might work!
I can see this book working really well for a lot of readers; for me, it’s just not entirely my cup of tea. Still, it’s always interesting to try something new, and I was especially interested because I don’t think I’ve read any contemporary Norwegian fiction before.
I recently read Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine, and I’m hoping to review the first trilogy for my next post. After that… I’m still hoping to find some non-fiction about mail/postal services. I think Deirdre Mask’s The Address Book is close enough in theme, so a review for that should be coming up soon as well. It’s all about the history of street names and addresses, and what they can tell us about local history and politics, and I really liked it, so I’ll probably write that up soon!
If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them; feel free to leave a comment here, send me a message, or drop a note in the forum thread if anything comes to mind!