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

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
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.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup