The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen — blunt and brilliant

The quiet island life of a Norwegian family is evoked in sparse, sublime prose

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The Unseen are the Barrøys, a three-generation Norwegian family who live on their own island. Occasionally the priest drops by, sometimes a man comes to buy their produce; otherwise they are undisturbed. Sparse, sublime prose distils this life along with the elements. The subtle translation, with its invented dialect, conveys a timeless, provincial voice.

Seasons and generations roll by. During the warm months they prepare for the winter; the father weakens as his son grows. Life is about survival and the delicate balance between “animals and land and people and sea”. Moments of introspection are as rare and bewildering as silence in a storm: “a veil in front of his eyes all these years . . . is this really all there is to it?”

Shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize, The Unseen is a blunt, brilliant book.

The Unseen, by Roy Jacobsen, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, Maclehose Press, RRP£14.99, 268 pages

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