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From the publisher
Winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature
Translated by Damion Searls and Grethe Kvernes
Melancholy I-II is a fictional invocation of the nineteenth-century Norwegian artist Lars Hertervig, who painted luminous landscapes, suffered mental illness and died poor in 1902. In this wild, feverish narrative, Jon Fosse delves into Hertervig’s mind as the events of one day precipitate his mental breakdown. A student of Hans Gude at the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf, Hertervig is paralyzed by anxieties about his talent and is overcome with love for Helene Winckelmann, his landlady’s daughter. Marked by inspiring lyrical flights of passion and enraged sexual delusions, Hertervig’s fixation on Helene persuades her family that he must leave. Oppressed by hallucinations and with nowhere to go, Hertervig shuttles between a cafe, where he endures the mockery of his more sophisticated classmates, and the Winckelmann’s apartment, which he desperately tries to re-enter – a limbo state which leads him inexorably into a state of madness. Published here in one volume in English for the first time, Melancholy I-II is a major novel by ‘the Beckett of the twenty-first century’ (Le Monde).
‘Jon Fosse is a major European writer.’
— Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle
‘[R]eading Fosse ... what threatens to be heavy proves lightsome. You put on your boots to wade through the mud and find yourself floating along.... Searls is to Fosse what Anthea Bell is to W. G. Sebald, the best possible intermediary.’
— Blake Morrison, London Review of Books
‘Fosse has been compared to Ibsen and to Beckett, and it is easy to see his work as Ibsen stripped down to its emotional essentials. But it is much more. For one thing, it has a fierce poetic simplicity.’
— New York Times
‘He touches you so deeply when you read him, and when you have read one work you have to continue.... What is special with him is the closeness in his writing. It touches on the deepest feelings that you have – anxieties, insecurities, questions of life and death – such things that every human being actually confronts from the very beginning. In that sense I think he reaches very far and there is a sort of a universal impact of everything that he writes. And it doesn’t matter if it is drama, poetry or prose – it has the same kind of appeal to this basic humanness.’
— Anders Olsson, Nobel committee
‘Jon Fosse has managed, like few others, to carve out a literary form of his own.’
— Nordic Council Literary Prize
‘It is desperately poignant…Melancholy I-II is a difficult but deep book…It is essential for understanding his major themes and the evolution of [Fosse’s] technique and artistic vision.’
— Rónán Hession, Irish Times