Book Review: Lars Saabye Christinsen’s The Half Brother

The Half BrotherThe Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I just couldn’t get through it, but I won’t give it a poor rating. From reading rave reviews from newspapers and literary magazines, and seeing the praise on Goodreads, it feels to me to be one of those books that will grab some readers, and others not. I did find the unfamiliar setting of Norway, both the far reaches and closer to the city, interesting, and I was also really interested to see what would happen to the characters, considering the origin story, which I won’t spoil here. But it was so slow-moving and long, in a way that I couldn’t engage with.

It’s not that I don’t mind long detailed Norwegian novels: I’ve read two of Karl Ove Knausgård’s books! But halfway through, struggling to read the book, struggling to be interested, none of the characters were developing. The father was still mysterious, the grandmother still drunk, the mother still resentful and the half-brother sharp and cruel. And Barnum, the narrator, trudging through this miserable world of his family and being a short outsider: I actually didn’t find his storytelling interesting enough to get through the story. It didn’t help that I found the second part of the short prologue, set in the modern day, pretty unbearable and uninteresting, a drunken screenwriter at a film festival dodging meetings.

I’m not completely sure why I couldn’t get into this book, though it does make me wonder about how we’re attracted to some writers and not to others, that doesn’t have to do with the quality of the writing (considering it’s a much awarded book, lauded by other people). I used to ALWAYS get through books, even if I wasn’t enjoying them. I felt an obligation to finish them, in order to fully judge them and felt it a failure of determination if I gave up.

But these days, these YEARS in fact, I read so much less than I used to. Reading a very slim David Leavitt novel (review forthcoming), I suddenly thought: this book is a tenth of the size of The Half Brother! Struggling through something that I wasn’t enjoying was actually preventing me from reading something I would likely enjoy more. I think I’ll be donating this one to the closest street library (which is appropriate, since the book also found its way to me without a cost).

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