Norway’s Dag Solstad is a brilliant writer, and his novel Shyness and Dignity is a brilliant novel. Struck by a sudden and compelling literary insight while plodding through Ibsen’s The Wild Duck with a class of bored students, the dull and undistinguished sixth-form teacher Elias Rukla, a loyal servant of the Scandinavian social democratic state throughout an uneventful working life, then finds himself at odds with an umbrella and realises that his life as a useful and respected member of society has come to an end. Where to go? Wandering aimlessly about the streets of Oslo in a state of existential shock, he comes to a halt at a roundabout in the city’s Bislett district and contemplates the course of his adult life.
Solstad’s singularly mesmerising sentences follow the intricate labyrinths of reflection, repetitively meandering and looping back in this at once darkly hilarious and heart-rending portrait of a man out of time. Solstad’s work, stretching now over fifty years, has made him one of the most highly esteemed of modern Scandinavian writers, and his surprisingly few novels in English translation have been lauded by the likes of Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis and James Wood. He would be a worthy Nobel winner.
Shyness and Dignity (translated by Sverre Lyngstad) was published by Harvill Secker in 2006.