It’s Fine By Me, by Per Petterson, translated by Don Bartlett, Vintage, RRP£7.99, 199 pages
Scraping a living as an unskilled print worker after dropping out of school, young Audun picks over the wreckage of his childhood. Enrolling in a new school, befriending the geeky, politically active Arvid, discussing writers – between these normal youthful pleasures Audun lets slip the truth about his father, whose violence had forced the whole family to flee to an anonymous Oslo suburb.
Audun’s flat, uninflected voice amplifies the misery of his situation. His brother’s death in a stolen car is reported with little emotion, while Audun’s own trajectory betrays an increasingly self-destructive streak. Petterson carefully ekes out the salient points of Audun’s domestic trauma, allowing an undertow of emotional violence and off-stage menace to pull at his lonely characters.
It’s Fine By Me is beautifully crafted but undeniably bleak; its spare prose, mournfully succinct characterisation and disorientating chronology deliver an edgy read.