by Erlend Loe
ISBN 978 1 84195 672 5, first published in English in 2000, buy it on Amazon.
I chose to read Erlend Loe’s Naïve. Super next out of my list of forty-two books because it is a stark contrast to Vanity Fair. It’s contemporary; it was first published in 1996 in Loe’s native Norway, and later translated into English in 2000. The book is also 197 pages which is minuscule compared to Vanity Fair. It actually only took me three days to finish. You could argue that it’s because it was a small book, but actually, I found it very fun to read. Whilst reading I would often find myself laughing out loud on the train – this is quite rare for me, books don’t usually have the ability to make me giggle, but this was one did.
Firstly, what struck me was the age of the narrator. He is a 25-year-old man who quickly loses interest in his life. This immediately resonated with me. I started reading on the eve of my twenty-fifth birthday. It felt like the novel fell into my hands when I needed it the most. You never learn the name of the narrator. He is just an average young adult trying to find his way in the world like so many of us – just like me.
So, after having a minor breakdown, he abandons his studies, moves into his brother’s apartment who is ‘not as friendly as I [sic] am, but he’s OK’ (1) and finally, finds himself in New York. These are clearly the actions of someone who is going through an existential crisis. I appreciated the poem at the end of the first chapter on a number of levels, but predominantly because I used to watch Sesame Street and actually understood his reference (like many others scattered throughout the novel):
There I sat sweating.
I had performed a feat.
No nonsense here.
This was not Sesame Street.
The style of writing was extremely honest; it was almost as if you were inside the narrator’s head and listening to his uncensored thoughts. These thoughts were innocent, and pure, and almost childlike. Really, all he wanted was a girlfriend which I found extremely sweet. He often describes women as ‘pretty’ and believed that his life would be better if he has a girlfriend. He sounds like a teenage boy – before he’s ravaged by hormones and sexual desires.
Anyway, there were no fillers in this short story, everything and everyone introduced was significant even if they did not appear to be so whilst reading. The narrator meets a young boy named Børre, together they go on a mini adventure that leads to other interesting developments for the protagonist.
My absolute favourite thing about this story, however, was that it was predominantly made up of lists.
A few of them were:
- What used to excite me when I was younger?
- What do I have and what don’t I have?
- Who do I look up to?
As I read his lists, I noted down some of my own responses to them:
What used to excite me when I was younger:
- My cousins
- Animals (especially big cats)
- Wacky Racers
- My mum picking me up after work
- Walking to school with my grandmother
What I have:
A loving family
- An amazing boyfriend
- A cat
- A masters from a top university
- Great friends
- Passion and drive
- A piano
- A job
- Somewhere to live
What I don’t have:
- My own home
- Savings (not much anyway)
- A career
- A good camera
Who I look up to:
- Both of my grandmothers
- My mum
- Lucy Worsley
- Jane Austen
- The Brönte sisters
- Stieg Larsson
I found this really quite fun to do.
Unfortunately, the ending came far too soon for me; I would have liked to read more about the narrator and find out how exactly he managed to build his new life. Although the novel was short it’s ending was hilarious and completely unexpected. It was also quite sad, but in a pathetic kind of way.
My only criticism, and this is not of the novel, is with the translation. There are some minor issues with missing pronouns, mid-way through, that to a native English speaker will jump out at and distract them from being absorbed in the text.
I would say read this book if you’re looking for a change from your usual reads. It’s short and snappy, and actually, it’s extremely thoughtful. It says a lot. It taught me a lot about myself and life. It taught me not to worry, that I’m still young and not everybody has everything figured out, and it taught me to take my twenty-fifth year a step at a time because I will be OK. Indeed, my favourite quote was:
Something is going to have to happen. Not necessarily something big. Just Something.
Finally, if I had to describe this book in three words they would be: honest, humorous, and innocent.