With the publication of the novel Hakk (Cut) in 1994, Hanne Ørstavik (b. 1969) embarked on a career that would make her one of the most remarkable and admired authors in Norwegian contemporary literature. Her literary breakthrough came three years later with the publication of Love, which in 2006 was voted one of Norway’s Top Ten book of the last twenty-five years. Love was published to acclaim by And Other Stories in 2019. Upon the novel’s US publication, it won the PEN Translation Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Ørstavik has also won a number of prizes in Norway, including the prestigious Brage Prize. Ti Amo is her fifteenth novel.

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Hanne Ørstavik was awarded the Gyldendal Prize in April 2024. The bi-annual Gyldendal Prize is Norway’s biggest prize in terms of prestige and monetary award. It’s given to an author with an exceptionally significant body of work. Previous winners include Dag Solstad, Jon Fosse, Vigdis Hjorth, Karl Ove Knausgård and Per Petterson.

Here is a translation of the jury’s statement, which is also here online in Norwegian:

gyldendalprisen-pristalen-2023.pdf (



“Dad held me tightly when I was little. He came home and lifted me up, squeezing me so hard I couldn’t breathe. I liked it, it was so direct.”

These sentences open the book Where Everything Is Clear from 2008, which also contains photographs by Pierre Duba. It’s one of the lesser-known releases from this author. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that these sentences could be found anywhere in this author’s body of work. Or not quite. The use of the personal pronoun “I” reveals that the sentences come from a book published after the same author received the Hunger Prize in 1999.

Gyldendal’s grant was awarded for the first time ninety years ago. That year, the prize went to Olav Duun. In 1996, it was renamed the Gyldendal Prize and is awarded every other year. The jury consists of Kaja Schjerven Mollerin, Ingrid Nielsen, Aage Borchgrevink, Bernhard Ellefsen, and Knut Hoem.

The statutes emphasize that the prize should be awarded to a particularly significant body of work, and this body of work should be highlighted by a book that adds profile to it.

The last meeting of the Gyldendal grant board took place in a meeting room in this building. We discussed through a shortlist of authors, represented then by their current publication from 2023.

Opinions were divided on several. When we reached this year’s winner, something happened to the atmosphere in the room. There was a feeling of consensus, which is somewhat paradoxical because there wasn’t any of us who hadn’t read the novels of this author without putting up some form of critical resistance. Nevertheless, there was a sense of relief in the room after encountering the novel that lay before us. The book with three small words in the title had reached us all. We were all clearly seized by the acute questions the text posed. The existential questions, which no one living here and now can evade. Where is that in me that is me? Who is it that sees who we really are? How does the one who is dead live on in all things? Personal, but at the same time equipped with a fictional parallel narrative, shedding light on the autobiographical. It’s not so much about updating us on what the author had experienced since the last time. It’s more about what new insights have been gained. We readers enter into a literary language that is attuned to understanding. Indeed, it’s a language that is exploratory, and therefore appeals to the exploratory in us.

This novel virtually came to our rescue by offering sentences that set a new standard for our conversation. And this at a time when the public debate about whether it’s even possible to claim that something is better than something else, that some authors are better than others, haunts us with renewed strength. Could it be that Solveig from Week 43, this author’s most controversial fictional character, was right when she claimed that indisputable quality exists? Yes, but also no. We will continue to discuss these novels, there are fourteen of them so far. Each and every one of us, from our own perspective.

What does it really mean, to surrender to another person? This question is already raised in the beginning of the author’s body of work, in the debut novel Cut from 1994. Three years later, with the novel Love (1997), the author had her definitive breakthrough. The scene where the mother strokes her son’s hair, but has her attention turned to her own newly polished nails, belongs to the most iconic of the author’s books. Later, in a bar, it’s the nails again, drumming impatiently on the counter as the mother tries to realize herself as something other than a mother, as a person full of desire. With this novel, it was as if the thematic center of Norwegian literature was set in motion. Away from the solitary man on an eternal Peer Gynt-like journey in search of the meaning of life. He was replaced by a young mother, and, as if behind her again, a young girl in a house in Tana in Finnmark, trying to understand why the family was not a safe place.

“It is obvious that our modern culture subjects humans to massive discipline – bodily, linguistically, emotionally,” wrote Ingrid Nielsen in the journal Vinduet based on the novel As True as I am Real from 1999. That same year, the then thirty-year-old author was awarded the Hunger Prize, awarded to an “eminent young writer.” The Gyldendal grant board justified this partly because she was part of a rich tree of female prose modernists, inspired by, among others, Virginia Woolf and Marguerite Duras.

Today it’s as if the author has shattered those kinds of labels. There followed some daring novels. Week 43 (2002) is written in dialogue with Ibsen’s “Brand,” the priest who sets the highest demands for himself and his surroundings. But this uncompromisingness is shifted to a district college in a smaller Norwegian town in the icy October rain of our time. The position from which the novel is articulated is different from Ibsen’s, noted Swedish Dagens Nyheter’s critic Birgit Munkhammar, adding that it was as if the author “in her cupped hands should hold out a life so small and naked that it hardly exists: ‘this little human stain that stood there in the corridor and was like a little drop, barely visible, something to wipe away’.”

In The Pastor (2004), she dealt with a historical event. The Kautokeino uprising, where Sami people, awakened by the preacher Læstadius, attacked the sheriff, trader, and priest. Here it becomes clear that what the author seeks in this constant dialogue with historical events, other philosophers and other authors and texts, is always closely linked to the existential issues she seeks to explore. But neither would the author stay here. It’s tempting to borrow a title from one of the later novels. She crossed the mountain! To warmer climes. To more continental philosophers. To an exploration of the meaning of desire and sexuality in human life that is unmatched in Norwegian literary history. The formally innovative The Calling – The Novel (2006) contains a discarded novel about a grandmother who received a calling and became a missionary to China. In the ruins of this tale emerges a new skepticism about whether a human life can even be told. It is in this period that the third-person narrative is replaced by an “I”.

“It has taken a very long time to believe that I have something to say. This is twofold. It’s about ‘I’, as a place to speak from, the statement position, the ability to say ‘I’ at all. And it’s about having something to say, in other words, content. To say and to say ‘I’ is to take up space,” it says in the introduction to the essay collection I Dreamed That All My Books Were in the Kitchen Cabinet from 2018.

On this literary mountain hike that followed from the 2000s onwards, the author has surely lost some old companions, but it is equally certain that she has picked up some new ones on the journey. The Calling – The Novel (2006), 48 Rue Defacqz (2009), The Hyenas (2011), There IS a Big Open Square in Bordeaux (2013), and On the Terrace in the Dark (2014) appear to be more improvised, freer in form, more open about their own method, and therefore perhaps, for a modern reader, easier to follow. In this mature phase, we see an author who is less concerned with metaphorical significance but incredibly adept at knowing what to include. The conversation with the reader expands with new, refreshing themes. Art! Dance! Tennis! (More of that!) And in the last novel: Marilyn Monroe. The lonely man, last seen in Norwegian novels from the 1990s, is replaced by a solitary woman. Equipped with maps of northern Italian cities, she seeks in Novel. Milan (2019) and Ti Amo (2020) a complete form of love – and finds it! Only to lose it again. And in a way that none of those who have read these books can remain untouched by.

And all the while, they keep coming, these luminous sentences that are so difficult to guard oneself against. The unresolved fear from previous novels finds a temporary resolution in a new realization in last year’s novel.

“Who am I when I’m not afraid,” it says in Stay with Me, the prize winner’s latest, magnificent novel – it continues with the main sentences so characteristic of this author, initiated by a relative pronoun: “As if I were trying to understand, all the time. What are we doing? Why are we here? I think I just didn’t understand the point of it all throughout my upbringing. Why live if there is no joy. If there is no good, if nothing is soft, if there is no – love.”

“It’s like with Ibsen’s Brand. You simply cannot remain indifferent to her,” wrote Frode Helmich Pedersen in one of the many debate articles that now almost naturally come after each release. This intimacy between author and reader hinted at here is the result of a unique thirty-year literary work, which is by no means concluded. Rather, there is reason to hope that what we are witnessing here today is a new beginning. It is with great joy that I announce that Hanne Ørstavik has been awarded the Gyldendal Prize for 2023.


Kate Briggs

‘From the very first page, the first sentence, there’s this honesty of voice. A voice weighted with dread and waiting but also shaky with love and wonder. The novel is described on the back as “very hard and very beautiful.” It is very hard. But, somehow, without this being in any way tritely or easily achieved, it is also very beautiful. A magnificent translation of a life-companion of a book.’

The Guardian

‘This novella, sometimes hard to read for its bleakness but impossible to look away from, shows that even when we know the destination, the journey is still worthwhile.’

Wall Street Journal

‘What is so impressive is her ability to capture – with precision, candour and, indeed, tenacity – her shifting sense of self, as the foundations on which it rests crumble with every passing moment.’

The I

‘The most skilful of writers…you need this Norwegian writer on your bookshelf.’

The Skinny

Ti Amo is a complex look at grief, love and loneliness, longing, not veiled within a wider narrative or hidden under layers.’

The Spectator

‘Tender, anguished and truthful, Ti Amo recalls a line from a novel by Duras I read years ago: “There are no holidays from love” – as most of us discover, sooner or later.’

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

‘The novel shares a compassionate vision, bridging the gulf between the one who will go on and the one who will not ... A remarkably frank and finely sieved account of two people approaching the ultimate parting of the ways.’


‘What do we really talk about when we talk about “truth” in literature? Ørstavik’s painful book on grief provides rich answers. Thoughtful and – even for her – enormously raw, Ørstavik accomplishes an astonishing amount in very few pages.’


‘An exceptionally good novel about grieving and waiting . . . Ørstavik writes so well that the book feels essential, timeless and universal.’


‘Ørstavik writes mercilessly and beautifully about losing her husband. This little novel is a heart-breaking gem. Ti Amo is an endlessly sorrowful novel, but it's written with such forceful presence, a kind of wonder and tenderness towards life and a celebration of love, that you can’t help but feel enriched by reading it. It’s very hard and very beautiful.’


‘One of the most powerful things about the book is its description of the process of losing someone to illness. The time it takes. That it’s possible to feel bereaved even before death arrives . . . It’s exhausting reading, breathless in its resignation . . . And then, midway through the book, there is a turning point. This is where the book really grabbed me, catching me off guard, brilliantly. Without revealing too much, I will say that it’s one of life’s ambushes deep down in the valley of death, equal parts dream and taboo, possible and impossible, an incident that gives grief a nuance it can probably only have for those who have stared into its eyes long enough.’  

Klassekampen, Best of 2020

‘This little novel from Ørstavik opens up spaces full of emotion and wise thoughts about life, love and death. All we can do is say thank you, and enter.’

Adresseavisen, #1 on the Best of 2020 list

‘Hanne Ørstavik has written perhaps her finest novel about her life’s greatest loss.’  

Astrid Fosvold
Vårt Land, Best of 2020

‘With Ti Amo, Hanne Ørstavik rediscovers the intensity and presence of her first novel Love. Ti Amo explores the liminal experiences that a novel can contain. At the same time we see her oeuvre from a new perspective. It’s a powerful novel about loving, and her best in a long time.’

Adresseavisen, 6/6 stars

‘A tender novel about losing your closest one to cancer. Perceptive, thoughtful and brilliantly written . . . [Ørstavik’s] novels are characterised by her use of language and words to create identity. She has never done it as successfully and satisfyingly as now . . . above all it’s a beautiful novel. About love in a real sense.’

Vårt Land

‘What is true? What is real? How do you get inside another human being? These questions have been central throughout Hanne Ørstavik’s work. In her latest novel, Ti Amo, in a story which is her own, she takes these questions to another level . . . Ørstavik has an impressive ability to expose a person’s inner world, to find a way in to where it hurts the most and explore complex experiences in simple prose, without everything falling apart.’

Praise for Hanne Ørstavik's Love

‘Perfectly poised . . . Ørstavik builds a cinematic sense of dread out of the plainest prose, phrase layered on phrase with the hushed implacability of falling snow.’ Justine Jordan, The Guardian ‘Ørstavik's mastery of perspective and clean, crackling sentences prevent sentimentality or sensationalism from trailing this story of a woman and her accidentally untended child. Both of them long for love, but the desire lines of the book are beautifully crooked. Jon wants his mother, and to be let in out of the cold . . . the cold that seems a character throughout this excellent novel of near misses.’ Claire Vaye Watkins, New York Times ‘Hanne Ørstavik’s utterly memorable, devastating little book was first published in Norway in 1997. Available in English for the first time, in Martin Aitken’s admirably clear translation, it might as well have been written yesterday: it has been preserved in fabular ice. The writing is beautifully precise and packed with meaning.’ Toby Lichtig, Times Literary Supplement ‘An achingly sad, unsentimental story . . . For a short novel that spans only a few hours in time . . . Ørstavik brings us remarkably close to both her characters, shifting effortlessly between them in stark, lucid prose.’ Sarah Gilmartin, Irish Times ‘[A] haunting masterpiece . . . The deceptively simple novel is slow-burning, placing each character into situations associated with horror – entering an unfamiliar house, accepting a ride from a stranger—and the result is a magnificent tale.’ Publishers Weekly, starred review ‘Love can change everything. And it does in this edgy, elegiac and beautifully written novel . . . What you think will happen doesn't – and what does breaks your heart.’ Kerri Arsenault, ‘Love does not disappoint. I was immediately lost to it, hooked within two pages, and already anxious about what was in store for the two convincingly drawn leads . . . If you can pull yourself away from this evocative, affecting and expertly woven tale before you find out what happens, you’re made of tougher stuff than me.’ Jane Graham, Big Issue ‘I was transported . . . the interior lives of both characters are so delicately expressed, with such a light hand, and this huge, powerful emotional impact.’ Ellah Watakama Allfrey ‘I thought [the characters] were drawn absolutely beautifully.’ Christopher Frayling ‘An extraordinary novel.’ Kathryn Hughes ‘Ørstavik’s writing is shrapnel sharp as she carves out a nuanced portrait of queasy love told through slithers that is eerie in its estrangement and quietly devastating in its loneliness.’ Katie Goh, The Skinny  

Karl Ove Knausgaard

‘Love is Hanne Ørstavik’s strongest book.’

Sarah Gilmartin
Irish Times

'An achingly sad, unsentimental story . . . For a short novel that spans only a few hours in time . . . Ørstavik brings us remarkably close to both her characters, shifting effortlessly between them in stark, lucid prose.'

Anita Felicelli
Los Angeles Review of Books

‘[I]n Love, the closeness of the perspectives, the cramming of them together, as if the mother and son are one person, and yet clearly not, feels less about narrative, and more about the limitations of love. We think we know another person, we feel settled in another person, and yet, perhaps every other consciousness is entirely a mystery. That’s the power of this particular book. The tiny emotional and atmospheric shifts are often barely perceptible, and yet they add up to much more.’

Claire Vaye Watkins
The New York Times

‘Ørstavik's mastery of perspective and clean, crackling sentences prevent sentimentality or sensationalism from trailing this story of a woman and her accidentally untended child. Both of them long for love, but the desire lines of the book are beautifully crooked. Jon wants his mother, and to be let in out of the cold...the cold that seems a character throughout this excellent novel of near misses.’

Publishers Weekly, starred review

‘[A] haunting masterpiece... The deceptively simple novel is slow-burning, placing each character into situations associated with horror—entering an unfamiliar house, accepting a ride from a stranger—and the result is a magnificent tale.’

Kirkus Reviews

‘Prizewinning Norwegian Ørstavik follows the parallel courses of a single mother and her 8-year-old son during a night that moves unrelentingly toward tragedy... A nightmarish sense of impending doom hangs over these carefully detailed, tightly controlled pages... icy cold to the core.’

Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

‘[A] creeping sense of unease is racheted up by the cool, lucid prose and how the paragraphs shift between mother and son, clarifying how close they should be and how close they aren’t... Multi-award winner Ørstavik offers an unsettling read that most will enjoy.’

Kerri Arsenault

‘Love can change everything. And it does in this edgy, elegiac and beautifully written novel...What you think will happen doesn't—and what does breaks your heart.’

M.Bartley Seigel
Words Without Borders

‘What was so striking to me about this slim novel was how quiet and circumspect it was given the emotional gut punch it delivered. ‘Deceptive’ is right, sneaky even, and at the risk of falling into the trap of stereotyping Norwegian lit, the power of quietly mushrooming foreboding is strong with Ørstavik. As I happen to be flying over the dark and snowy north of Norway as I write this, looking out my window at the icy fjords below, I feel the creep, even at 35,000 feet.’

Erik Noonan
Asymptote Journal

‘Love is a beautiful novella of beguiling simplicity, and Martin Aitken’s translation has brought it over into an English that is both familiar and alien.’

Lori Feathers
World Literature Today

‘Love is a deep and vibrantly alive novel... beautifully devastating... This is not your typical love story but rather the sharp-edged account of a boy whose need for attention from his heedless mother is heartfelt and full of yearning.’

Michael Orthofer
The Complete Review

‘Love is effectively atmospheric... neatly textured with its back and forths... A disturbing little read, nicely, darkly told.’

National Book Foundation, 2018 Translated Literature Finalist

‘In Hanne Ørstavik’s Love , the equilibrium between a tense, disquieting plot and a gently experimental binary structure sustain the reader’s attention and awe from beginning to end. The aerial beauty of Martin Aitken’s translation contributes to make the novel a successful rarity: a book that is at the same time a thriller and a dense literary object. “Perfect” may be the proper adjective to describe it.’

Booksellers on Love

‘Hanne Ørstavik crafts an atmosphere of unease out of the ordinary. An old man giving a young boy a pair of skates, a man inviting a woman over for coffee, in Orstavik’s hands these seemingly harmless moments become filled with an underlying sense of dread. Longing and loneliness fill these pages, while always there is a sense of the impossibility of real understanding and connection between people. Ørstavik is a true observer of human nature and Love is her masterpiece.’ Emily Ballaine, Green Apple Books on the Park
‘Point of view works like a spot of living light in this slender book, with deft perspective shifts occurring between Vibeke, a hardworking, distracted mother, and Jon, her curious, lonely young son, on nearly every page. Mother and son are each on a separate journey, but the reader watches their whole shared life, as memories are folded expertly between breaths in Orstavik's urgent, visually vivid present tense--what a lovely shape. Nothing is wasted. And I'm astonished by the precision and poetry of Martin Aitken's translation from the Norwegian.’ Gina Balibrera, Literati Bookstore
‘Written with a precise elegance...builds to an ending as lonely as our characters. Beautiful and affecting, no word is wasted in this perfect winter read.’ Kelsey Westenberg, Pilsen Community Books

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