The Hills Reply
This final work of experimental, interconnected stories by the legendary Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970) is a startling book whose style will challenge as well as invigorate readers. The Hills Reply often shifts forms midway through paragraphs, blending poetry, prose and short vignettes in order to reach an ecstatic truth. The central characters try for the same thing as they attempt communion with the natural world and find transcendence in their austere, everyday lives. The mother in "The Melody" is gripped by the joy of the title, while the narrator of "In the Marshes and on the Earth" is incapable of bridging the gap between himself and the cranes that enrapture him. The characters often exhibit wild behavior as well, as they wander the vast farmlands and landscapes that nearly consume them. Vesaas's writing is deeply impressionistic, as if trying to match these weird and difficult journeys, with the translation by Elizabeth Rokkan emphasizing his lyrical tendencies. Here is a book that loses any pretense of traditional narrative and gains a dreamy quality in return.
Though Vesaas is certainly not an easily accessible writer, fans of Pers Petterson and other Norwegian literary fiction authors will find much to love in this volume. This is the work of an author following his imagination into new territory. By then pushing his prose into Blakean modes of thought, he has crafted an unusual hybrid novel that is immensely rewarding and often stunningly beautiful. The Hills Reply is without a doubt one of the great reading surprises of the year. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer