Authors: Per Petterson
In The Wake
About the Book
Arvid has lost his parents and his two younger brothers in a ferry accident. Only he and his brother are left alive. The novel he is writing about his father is stalled, the grief and guilt he feels at having survived are too overwhelming. It is as though Arvid has become dislocated from the flow of life. His only human contact is with his Kurdish neighbour, and a woman whom he
glimpses in the flat across the street, whose face seems to mirror his own loneliness and loss. Then slowly, the memories begin to return: of his childhood, of his father, of his two younger brothers. He begins to write again.
Poignant, restrained, and at times unbearably moving,
In the Wake
is informed by terrible tragedy, and by man’s sense of the beauty of the natural world, at times our only
source of solace.
About the Author
Per Petterson, born in 1952, was a bookseller before publishing his first work, a volume of short stories, in 1987. Since then he has written five novels, which have established his reputation as one of Norway’s best fiction writers.
Out Stealing Horses
was awarded the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize, the Critics’ Award for Best Novel and won the 12th International IMPAC Dublin
Literary Prize in 2007.
In the Wake
(in Anne Born’s translation) was longlisted for the
Foreign Fiction Prize.
Anne Born, poet, critic and historian, has translated many works from the principal Scandinavian languages into English, including two other novels by Per Petterson.
Also by Per Petterson
Out Stealing Horses
I Curse the River of Time
It’s Fine By Me
IT WAS SOMETHING
to do with a face. I had never seen it before, yet I did recognise it, but as it comes to me now, the thought of it is unpleasant. Someone gave me a gin. I had had enough already. I see my hand around the glass, the glass is full to the brim, and then I do not remember anything more except that face, and now I stand with my forehead against the glass of this bookshop door,
and I kick at the door. They have to let me in. I do not know how long I have been standing here. I have been out of this world and now I am back, and I don’t feel well. Why doesn’t someone come and let me in? I kick the door. People are passing on the pavement behind me, but I don’t turn round, just squeeze my face to the glass and my nose is flattened and I stare at the rows of books. It is dark
in there, but light outside. It is morning, the sun feels hot on my neck, but I dare not turn round. That glass of gin was yesterday and miles and miles from this street in central Oslo.
Someone gives a little cough and says: “I don’t think there’s anyone there yet. It’s probably too early.”
I know that voice, it’s the lady from the kiosk next
. I have known it for years. She is right behind
me. I could pick her out with my eyes shut in the middle of Aker Brugge on a crowded Saturday afternoon in June. I’ve been buying Petterøe 3 tobacco and
and a Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bar from her since 1981. And then I remember. I do not work here any more. I haven’t worked here for three years. I stand perfectly still holding my breath and wait for her to go away. It is a good idea not
to breathe, my side hurts every time I suck the air in. But then I have to breathe, and there is a squeak from my throat or further down, and the pain in my side is there at once. It is lung cancer, I’m convinced it is, and I feel so sad because I have lung cancer and will certainly not be here for long.
It is quiet behind me now so she must have gone, and then I start to cry, with my nose pressed
to the glass door, and I look in at the rows of books, see that the shop has grown since I stopped working there, more floor space with more shelves for many more books I shall never read because I am going to die of lung cancer.
I am forty-three. When my father was this age I had just been born, and he never touched a cigarette in his whole life. He only had a drink with Sunday dinner; one pint
because he deserved it. The body should be a temple of life, he said, not a whited sepulchre. He was a skier and a boxer, and when he breathed, the air went straight into his lungs, and did no harm at all for the
was much cleaner then. If he ever coughed, it was because he had a cold, and he rarely did. Now he is dead, but through no fault of his own. If I die now it will definitely be my
fault. That is the difference between us, and it is a big difference.
I cough and look down; I see my hands. They have an emptiness I cannot account for and they are dirty, there are grazes on both palms, but I feel no pain. They just hang there. Then I remember a high grey wall and its rough surface, I am falling and holding on at the same time, and I remember utterly still water in a pool,
chlorine blue water with black lines on the bottom. It is a public swimming pool, and it is not yet open, it is quite silent, only a man all in white walking by the side of the pool, and I try to work out just where it is that I am standing watching this from, but I can’t. I am all over the place, I am like God, I am omnipresent. I can see the clock on the wall quite clearly, but I cannot make out
what the time is. There is a palm tree in one corner. It is Bislett baths, I think. Then the grey wall is Bislett stadium. But I have not been to Bislett stadium since I was ten and with my father and saw Raufoss beat Vålerenga FC two-nil. He was shattered. Didn’t say a word all the way home.
I feel the sun on my neck, it is burning or
is burning, and maybe it is Sunday. I don’t remember.
I see only my eyes in the glass and the books beyond, and I don’t know what day it is.
“Go and see what the weather is like,” my brother would say every time it was Sunday morning and winter, and I would have to get out of the bottom bunk and go to the window and pull the heavy curtain aside and look out through the frost flowers.
“It’s sunny,” I say, “sunshine and fine weather.”
he says, “fucking shit.”
“Fucking shit,” I say, and the snow was so white it hurt your eyes, and the smell of frying bacon floated up from downstairs, and we knew that
had been awake for several hours, preparing the skis and loading the rucksacks. Now they were ready in the hall with the thermos and sandwiches in the side pockets and extra sweaters and socks and ski scrapers and three lots
of Swix varnish in case of a sudden thaw or if the mercury dropped, and two oranges apiece and perhaps a Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bar if we were lucky, and the rucksack would be sure to weigh twenty kilos each.
But that is a lifetime ago, and he has been dead for nearly six years. I remember an office on Drammensvei with a red cross on the door, a fireman is showing a video from the inside of the
boat with a landscape of half-naked, prone bodies:
THE CORRIDOR OF DEATH
, the front page of
said, that video was on the inside of my eyes; skin, I see skin, velvety dull in the flickering light of a lamp moving onwards, restless shadows between elbows and hips, shoulder blades and necks, a sea of hushed softness where nothing moves
the light which brings life to what is not living.
The camera runs and pauses for a moment before what has turned black, where the flames have devoured it all, finished the job, and then it swings into a cabin where a woolly penguin lies alone on a bunk, the door to the bathroom ajar, the dark crack hiding the bath’s obvious secret. My feet are freezing as I stand here with my nose to the door remembering the cold creeping into my feet that
time in that office, and my stomach wildly burning. But my face was calm, and the woman sitting next to me said:
“Rewind, for heaven’s sake, I have to see that penguin one more time.” An air-raid shelter in Baghdad was what I thought, for a year had passed, I do not know where, and it was spring 1991 with surgical bombing, electronic warfare, a war on the screen, a video game.
said again and again, and the fireman
, goddamnit, and she turned to stone.
I really don’t feel well. The cold crawls from my feet to my hips and I start to tremble, my teeth chatter, my forehead shudders against the glass as it does when you sit on a bus with your head against the window, gazing out, and the diesel engine makes everything vibrate. I think I am going to be sick, but I mustn’t
be sick here. People go by on the pavement, and it can’t be Sunday because I hear from their voices that they are young, students from the business school next door,
as they pass me they stop talking, and I will not turn and look at them looking at me. I look down at my shoes. They are scuffed, my shirt is hanging out of my trousers below the unzipped jacket, and I see my belt dangling in
front of my half-open flies. They were not like that yesterday. When did those trousers come undone? Perhaps I have been raped. Perhaps someone dragged me into a doorway on my way past Bislett stadium or into a changing room at Bislett baths and grossly abused my butt while I was out of this world. I close my eyes and concentrate, hunting for traces all through my body; some remnant soreness, and
what I do discover is that I feel wretched. It isn’t easy to say what is what. I have to see a doctor. I may test positive. There are people in this town who would not blink twice at planting a seed in my blood, a virus that will tick and go deep inside what is me and one day after several years, when I least expect it, explode like a time bomb, one day when my life does not look as it does right
now, a day when I have the sun on my face.
I take a deep breath. The pain in my side damn near makes me jump. It’s my lungs, I had forgotten. I groan. Someone behind me stops and says something I do not want to hear. I stand very still, waiting, and then I hum a bit, and the someone walks off again. I raise my right hand to feel whether my hair is wet. It is bone dry and feels as stiff as a doormat
and far from clean. I could do with a shower, a shower and a steam bath. I like steam
these days. I did not before. I always dreaded the walk from the bus stop to Torggata baths and then up the stone steps to the cloakroom and the showers, and it was cold in the changing room and in the shower room before the water was turned on, but when the warm water ran through my hair and down my neck,
over shoulders and stomach, it felt good, and I closed my eyes and wanted to go on standing there. It was fine, for a moment everything was just fine.
“Open your eyes and come along,” he said and opened the door to the steam bath and I went in, because nobody had told me that you could say no. I went in and there was a blazing creature with a power that sucked each breath from my throat much
faster than I could keep up with, and very soon I was empty, and fighting for air.