Boyd Tonkin: A Week in Books

Flanked by wooded hills and with a fast-flowing river running through it, this postcard-perfect town hosts an ever-growing literary festival as May slides into June. Zadie Smith came to talk about her (now prize-winning) novel. Its title? Om Skjønnhet. Another star turn - the journalist and travel writer Asne Seierstad - told of her grim ordeal at another festival. Locked out of her hotel, she spent the night in a police cell. That happened at some place called Hay. Here in Lillehammer - a hundred miles north of Oslo, up the banks of the Mjøsa loch that seems to snake forever through central Norway - I'm sure that no hotelier (or anyone) would treat an author so.

Well-mannered, well-managed, Lillehammer's five days of debates import the tensions and traumas of a more agitated world into this serene lakeside locale, which enjoyed its 15 days of fame when it staged (impeccably, of course) the Winter Olympics in 1994. This year, it welcomed not just Seierstad - whose family comes from here - but Shah Muhammad Rais, the real-life "Bookseller of Kabul" whose life and fate (so he now claims) she plundered as raw material for her global bestseller. He has hired a notoriously predatory libel specialist, so maybe Asne's brushes with the law will not begin and end in rural Wales.

Lillehammer feels like the literary heartland of Norway. Ibsen (the centenary of whose death unleashed a mountain-torrent of events) set Peer Gynt in the Gudbrundsdalen valley that winds north from the town. Sigrid Unset, the Nobel-winning novelist and presiding genius of the festival, wrote and gardened here in a house that's due to open as a museum next year. And Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, the bard who wrote Norway's national anthem, lived not far away at Aulestad. But Lillehammer does heresy as well as heritage. The radical theatre guru Peter Sellars gave the keynote lecture, while a wrangle over the Danish cartoon controversy between Kenan Malik from Britain and Norwegian writer Nazneen Khan Østrem reminded visitors that this is not (quite) a monocultural society.

As for Norwegian fiction, it now travels as far as Norwegian shipping. Adelheid Seyfarth, a well-known black journalist, made a critical splash with her debut novel Father's House, its African family quest connecting and contrasting a woman's experiences in Norway and Kenya. Intrigued and disturbed by the rescued child soldiers he came across as refugees in schools, the popular Arne Svingen went to Ivory Coast to research a teenage novel about them - and then unwound with a Roddy Doyle-ish romp, The Thugs' Committee, about growing up as a rebel rock fan in the age of Abba (and Marxism). Vidar Sundstøl, who has lived in and written about Egypt, has made the hero of his new novel Michelle's Things a successful but disoriented Norwegian crime writer adrift in southern Spain.

Successful (but not disoriented), the thriller writers Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbø turned up at Lillehammer - both available in English, as are other festival favourites such as Linn Ullmann and Lars Saabye Christensen. Yet, until now, the reputation of the godfather of postwar fiction has not really made the crossing over the North Sea.

Dag Solstad did speak at Lillehammer - but as an expert on the World Cup. He's a soccer buff, much in demand for quiz nights, as well as the novelist whose work - by critical consent - best sums up Norway's modern trends and traumas. It may be scant consolation for Norway's absence from (and Sweden's presence at) the tournament, but Solstad's first English translation for ages is published later this month: the novella Shyness and Dignity, from Harvill Secker. Anyone who craves a taste of the latter over the next, mad weeks had better head for Lillehammer now.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn