Summer thinking

If a person who is not a literary scholar saw me working today, I would fear it would be difficult for her to recognize what I was doing as real work. Nonetheless, it feels like I had a small conceptual breakthrough on the chapter in the cabin book that deals with contemporary literature. It came about through reading Britt Karin Larsen’s Munnen i gresset from 1996. Combined with the other novels I’ve been considering for the chapter (Per Petterson’s Ut og stjæle hester and Merethe Lindstrøm’s Steinsamlere), it seems to be making up a kind of trend. When my husband got home from work I outlined the novel and what I had been thinking about, and he quickly came up with a list of a bunch of other texts that seem to fit in. These include:

  • Vetle Lid Larssen’s I engelens munn (1991)
  • Lars Saabye Christensen’s Maskeblomstfamilien (2003) and the short story “Trosse” (not sure of the date)
  • Øystein Lønn’s Thomas Ribes femte sak (1991)
  • Karin Fossum’s Den som frykter ulven (2003)

The common denominator here seems to be a different type of cabin than in the earlier periods, namely the summer house (“sommersted,” “sommerhus”), which has some slightly different connotations and parameters than the term “hytte,” though to a certain degree they are interchangeable. Combined with the texts I’ve already been thinking about, I have more than enough material to analyze. I’m thinking maybe the chapter needs to have two sections, one on the “fate” of the mountain cabin (the kind that one can use in winter time–insulated, more remote) in late modernity, and one on the the rise of the summer cabin (uninsulated, a retreat, but more easily accessible, often not purpose built but simply a modest old house, often with easy access to the fjord) as an intimate personal space in contemporary literature.

The contours of these two sections are still quite vague, but one thing is clear: by the 1990s cabins have become such an integral part of Norwegian cultural praxis that the texts that make use of them seem to be “layering” them–in Ut og stjæle hesterSteinsamlere, Maskeblomstfamilien, Armand V, and Munnen i gresset, the texts are built up of multiple time frames that are layered, and linked to space. Nearly all of these include a childhood idyll at a summer cabin, the memories of which are often activated in the mind of the protagonist by a retreat to yet another (or in the case of Steinsamlere, a pilgrimage toward a now-absent) cabin in the narrative present. There also seems to be a clear gender dynamic at play, where women are redefining cabins as feminine spaces too.

I’m not at all sure yet what the cultural implications of this shift away from narratives that function in (effectively) only one place and time is. And I can already think of an earlier texts that prefigures this trend (Gunnar Larsen’s Sneen som falt i fjor). But something’s going on here that I’ve gotten a glimpse of, and now need to pick away at until I figure it out.

For anyone else, it looks like I was just laying around in the sun reading a novel and fiddling with my iPad. For me, it was actual work. Perhaps it was the gorgeous weather and idyllic summer atmosphere here where I live that got me going. After delivering my son to school by bike I took the long way home by way of the fjord, passing idyllic summer homes with fantastic views of the Oslo fjord, richly scented lilacs in full bloom, and dappled dirt roads. Where I live was once a summer vacation colony, and the traces of this still remain (and indeed Saabye Christensen writes about this place specifically), even after it has become a commuter suburb of Oslo.

Words written: 326


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