5 Of His Best Books

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Fosse converted and in 2012 his multi-volume work, “Septology” — centering on a Catholic convert-painter — was shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize and National Books Critics Award.

In a New Yorker profile on him published last year, Fosse described his style as “mystical realism,” adding that he had turned to faith while struggling with alcoholism. Fosse stopped drinking while writing “Septology” at the time of his conversion.

“In the world we’re living in, I feel the economic powers are so strong — they run it all. You have some forces on the other side, and the church is one of them,” he said. “The church is the most important institution, as far as I can see, of anti-capitalist theology. You have literature and art as another institution, but they aren’t as strong as the churches.”

Among those in literary circles, Fosse is known for, as the Nobel Committee observed, his “innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.” Interviewed after the announcement, Anders Olsson, who chairs the Nobel Committee for Literature, described Fosse’s universality this way: “He touches on the deepest feelings that you have — anxieties, insecurities, questions of life and death — such things that every human being confronts from the very beginning.”

For those who have yet to read Fosse, here are five of his works — translated into English — that you should discover: 

Fosse said farewell to theory early in his career, choosing instead to focus on fiction and poetry. Here, however, in a selection from his two books of essays, the writer flexes his critical and memoirist muscles.

In fact, this collection also includes personal essays such as “My Dear New Norwegian,” “Old Houses” and “He Who Didn’t Want to Become a Teacher.” 

Named The New Yorker’s best book of 2023, this hypnotic story is about a man lost in the woods. He alternates between turning right and left, and ultimately finds himself stuck at the end of a forest road. It soon grows dark and begins to snow. Instead of searching for help, he ventures into the dark and gets lost. In the process, he encounters a glowing being. 

Consisting of three novellas (“Wakefulness,” “Olav’s Dreams” and “Weariness”), “Trilogy” is a love story featuring Asle and Alida, a couple trying to find their place in this world. Homeless and sleepless, they wander in the rain, trying to make a life for themselves and the child they are expecting. 

It’s here that Fosse examines both life and death. A child who will be named Johannes is born and an elderly man named Johannes dies. Between these two points, Fosse gives us the details of an entire life.   

Fosse’s greatest work about the human condition and happiness can be found in this voluminous tome. Asle, a widower who lives alone on the southwest coast of Norway, is reminiscing about his life. His only friends are his neighbor, Asleik, a fisherman-farmer, and Beyer, a gallerist. There, in the city of Bjorgvin, lives another man named Asle, who is also a painter but lonely and consumed by alcohol. Asle and Asle are doppelgangers — two versions of the same person — both grappling with existential questions about love and death.

These three volumes — “The Other Name,” “I is Another” and “A New Name” — were placed into one collected work this fall for the first time in honor of Fosse’s Nobel Prize when it was first announced this past October.





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