Doppler, By Erlend Loe. Head of Zeus, £7.99


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The Independent Culture

Will the Marmite test (love or loathe) apply in the UK to this extremely quirky novel? Over 100,000 Norwegians have chosen the first option and made the book a barnstorming success. Erlend Loe is a bestselling novelist in Norway, celebrated for his sardonic and unsparing take on modern society. His satirical point-of-view is the starting point for this strange and humorous book. Although some of the targets are less à propos in 2013 (the book has taken eight years to reach English readers, in a translation by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw), there are still some cogent points made. If, that is, you can accept the whimsy of a man conversing with a baby moose.

Doppler regards himself as a failed man of his time – although prepared to accept that the times themselves may be at fault. He has sustained a typical bourgeois Oslo existence with a successful career and family, but a tumble from his mountain bike results in a seismic mental shift. He decides to adopt a solitary life in the forest in the manner of Thoreau's Walden, attempting to strip from his soul every aspect of his previous way of living.

Short of food, Doppler shoots a moose. But the animal he kills is a female, and he finds himself adopting the calf, which he names Bongo. Lengthy conversations ensue between the two (or, more precisely, monologues – Bongo is a good listener). But this set-up is inevitably threatened. Doppler's wife tells him she's pregnant and that it is his duty to come home for the birth. More pressingly, he has a new neighbour – of markedly Right-wing views – so his philosophical calm once again begins to be replaced by desperation.

The naive style and humour here will not be to every taste, yet as a picture of a misanthrope struggling to lead a solitary life, Loe's narrative begins to establish an insidious grip. When one realises that the whimsicality is sugaring a rather bitter pill, reading the book becomes more complex. Readers able to cope with these absurdities may find themselves enjoying a darkly comic fable which makes, en passant, some astringent points about the way we live.