Professor Andersen’s Night is an unsettling yet highly entertaining novel of apathy, rebellion and morality. In flinty prose, Solstad presents an uncomfortable question: would we, like his cerebral protagonist, do nothing?
While Professor Andersen is drinking his cognac and letting the “Christmas spirit fill my mind”, he peeks out his window and sees a woman being strangled. He hides behind the curtains and eventually picks up the telephone to call the police but he changes his mind. He thinks: what’s done is done, the woman is probably dead anyway:
“I can’t tell them about this. The only outcome would be the murderer’s arrest.” And the murderer might well be caught, but not on account of him, Professor Andersen, intervening and notifying them that the man had committed a murder. The idea was distasteful to him.
According to the blurb of Professor Andersen’s Night, Professor Andersen runs into the murderer at a sushi bar several days later. Sadly, I didn’t make it that far into the story. Red flags went up immediately when I found myself setting this book aside after reading the first two pages. This is a book about a man and his conscience. He doesn’t phone the police but continues to rationalize his actions. The following day he attends a dinner party and plans to share the night’s events with his friend. He keeps going back and forth in his decision to say to his host/friend that he witnessed a murder and didn’t report it to the police. This is where my interest started to wan. I stopped reading at page 18 because I got bored with reading stuff like this:
They sat down at the dinner table. The seating arrangement had been fixed elegantly and with an experienced hand so that their being an odd number went unnoticed, but gave them an added sense of well being, since Nina, their hostess, had two companions at the table. Jan Brynhildsen, sitting on her left, and Per Ekeberg on her right, both of whom could then cheerfully compete to win her favour and attention, while Bernt, their host, had one female companion, Judith Berg, on his left, who for her part could enjoy this, while at the same time she had Per Ekeberg on her left. Trine Napstad could likewise enjoy having Professor Andersen as a table companion, but she also had Jan Brynhildsen, the comedy actor with leading roles at the National Theatre on her right side and he could converse with her if, or rather when, their hostess Nina was deep in conversation with Per Ekeberg sitting on her right, and in that way was able to relieve Professor Andersen, who then could take the opportunity to exchange a few words with his old friend, Bernt Halvorsen, the host whom he had sitting on his left or just stare vacantly into space if the latter was deep in conversation with Judith Berg, his table companion. In this manner, the conversation could flow easily from one to the other, with plenty of opportunity for all of them to get involved in one single topic, if most found it sufficiently interesting because the responsibility of having a fixed female table companion hadn’t been laid on anyone, apart from Bernt, but since he was-
I couldn’t read another word of this. To continue would be torture.
Who is Dag Solstad? According to the book info page, Solstad is one of Norway’s leading contemporary authors. He’s received the Norwegian Literary Critic’s Award three times. While the premise is interesting and made me purchase this book, the execution of it was sorely lacking sorry to say. Plus I didn’t like the protagonist all that much. He tries to justify his actions and I think he was morally wrong. Who knows. Other readers may agree with what he did except I wouldn’t know who that would be. If that paragraph I quoted didn’t bore you then this might be a great read for you because yes, there is more of that in store for you. However, this is my loss for sure, to pass over such a profoundly, enlightening story. DNF.
Source: I bought this book