Translated Fiction Book Club: ‘Restless’

In this week’s Translated Fiction Book Club, we were discussing Restless, published by Nordisk Books, written by Kenneth Moe and translated by Alison McCullough. This week’s discussion was great, as Restless was a book that divided opinions and welcomed some very interesting debates.

In brief, Restless is a one-hundred-page letter, or perhaps even a journal entry written by an angsty young man after being rejected by a love interest. The letters or journal entries appear in short, fleeting blasts, and offer an insight into the mind of a young man struggling with rejection which he tries (and fails?) to overcome. The fragmented structure lends itself well to the protagonist’s fleeting obsessive thoughts based on his relationship with this particular woman and they sometimes enter into potentially controversial territory as we begin to understand his obsession in more depth.

Opening the session was a discussion with the director of Nordisk Books, Duncan J. Lewis and the translator, Alison McCullough. Nordisk Books was set up only four years ago with the aim to publish creative fiction from the Nordic countries – not crime fiction, the Nordic countries have much much more to offer! Alison discussed her translation of the book, explaining that one of the more difficult tasks in this translation was with the difference in the Norwegian and English languages. With Norwegian being a more concise language, it was sometimes difficult to render this preciseness in English. She also touched on her method of ‘inhabiting the narrator’s mental space’, something that may prove to be quite challenging with a book such as Restless.

As we broke off into smaller groups to discuss the book, it became clear that opinions on it were divided. I for one enjoyed the sporadic structure of the book, something that I felt lent itself well to the themes and emotions explored within. However we felt that the difficult nature of the book and the narrator’s thoughts and words ultimately didn’t make for a very enjoyable read.

We held some very interesting discussions on the epigraph that appears at the start of the book:

“The amorous subject cannot write his love story himself.”

A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, Roland Barthes

We talked about what this meant for the themes covered in the book, and for the narrator’s ultimate aim. In A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes explores the idea that there is no ‘order’ to love, there is no universal rhetoric with which to discuss or understand love, and perhaps this is what the narrator eventually comes to realise. I think the quote also speaks to perhaps a more simplistic idea that love is something out of one’s control, it is impossible to ‘pin it down’ and write one’s own love story, so perhaps it could be considered that this quote alerts you to the ‘unreliable narrator’ who is attempting the ‘impossible’ in writing his own ‘love’ story, or trying to find ‘order’ in love. There were also discussions on how ultimately, the point of love is reciprocation, something that was not at all apparent in this book. One more interesting point to make is that the structure of Restless could perhaps be considered as mirroring the layout of A Lover’s Discourse, consisting of short extracts and fleeting trains of thought.

I loved this week’s interesting discussion, and am excited to begin reading Thirteen Months of Sunrise, written by Rania Mamoun, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and published by Comma Press in preparation for next week!

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