Friendship by Lars Saabye Christensen (transl. Don Bartlett): ‘Can everything go back to how it was?’

Cover image for Friendship by Lars Saabye ChristensenLars Saabye Christensen’s new novel is the second instalment of his Echoes of the City trilogy. The first, which gives the series its name, opened in 1947 telling the story of post-war Oslo through the Kristoffersen family. Spanning just over a year, Friendship picks up their story in 1956 with Maj still treasurer of the local Red Cross, fifteen-year-old Jesper still showing promise as a pianist and seven-year-old Stine finding it hard to make friends at school.

The tarmac is shiny and looks like black lakes or just a silent river in the reflection of the streetlamps. The leaves are glued to the darkness like yellow stamps

Money’s tight in the Kristoffersen household. Now widowed, Maj finds herself a job at her husband’s advertising agency ostensibly as a secretary but proving herself to have a knack for campaign ideas, albeit unacknowledged by the ‘boys’ who once worked alongside Ewald. Jesper is still being taught piano by Enzo who sets him up with a more expert tutor before disappearing from his life. Lonely and struggling with a minor speech impediment, Stine laments not remembering her father. Maj manages to squeeze her Red Cross duties into her busy life, hoping to get Jesper’s ex-babysitter reinstated, now married to a man who insists she dresses in his first wife’s clothes. Jesper’s friendship with Jostein, the butcher’s son, is stretched taut by Jostein’s bumptious superiority now that he has a job. By the end of the novel, Jesper will have fallen in love and met with a setback, Maj will have taken an uncharacteristic decision that lands her in desperate straits and Jostein will have turned a man’s tragedy to his own advantage.

He is freezing like a dog. It doesn’t matter. What does is that the jacket is cool. And he would rather lose his ears that wear a stupid hat  

Friendship follows much the same structure as Echoes of the City, smoothly slipping from character to character while keeping the Kristoffersens sharply in focus, telling their story with humour and pathos. Much of the narrative is from Jesper’s perspective as he struggles with the tensions in his friendship with Jostein, the pitfalls of first love and the disappointment of failed ambition. He’s an engaging character: thoughtful, anxious and protective of his sister, his adolescent self-consciousness and uncertainty neatly captured. The Red Cross is less present in this second volume as Oslo gets back on its feet, poverty and homelessness still haunting the city but less so in the ‘50s than the ‘40s. Maj’s experience at the advertising agency has a touch of Mad Men’s Peggy Olson about it, ringing all too true. The novel’s ending takes us back to the first instalment’s prologue while setting us up for the third part. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how things develop for the Kristoffersens, harbouring hopes that Maj will become a copywriter and put the ‘boys’ in their place.

Maclehose Press: London 9781529413335 400 pages Paperback

14 thoughts on “Friendship by Lars Saabye Christensen (transl. Don Bartlett): ‘Can everything go back to how it was?’”

  1. I bought Echoes of the City after reading your review, still not read it. Thank you for reminding me about it, I had also forgotten it’s part of a trilogy.

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