Jon Fosse



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Jon Fosse (Norway, 1959)

Melancholy

Jon Fosse

"Melancholy" is the fictional biography of a real person, a Norwegian painter, told as a stream of consciousness in first person. The storytelling proceeds by repetition and slow variation of sentences.

Lars is a young aspiring painter from a small village in Norway, raised by a family of Quaker farmers, who is studying in Germany with a famous landscape painter, Hans Gude. The novel, set in 1853, opens with Lars lying in bed as if paralyzed, afraid of what the teacher will think of his painting and therefore reluctant to visit his studio, and talking or imagining of talking to the 15-year-old girl Helene, daughter of the (widowed) landlady from whom he is renting a room. Helene just told him that his uncle wants him to move out. Lars is delirious about his love for Helene, which Helene may or may not reciprocate, and is jealous of her uncle, whom he suspects of molesting the girl. Lars suffers from hallucinations. When the uncle comes home, he walks into Lars' room and Lars makes the mistake of telling him that he is in love with Helene. This only makes the uncle more furious and the uncle tells Lars to move out immediately. Lars can only find shelter at a pub called Malkasten, where painters from Norway hang out. There he meets his friend Alfred, who in Larsís opinion is a bad painter. Alfred takes his pipe and Lars doesn't relent until Alfred returns it. Lars can't even order a drink because he has no money: he is financially supported by a Hans Sundt, a ship-owner and wine merchant of his home town. When Lars tells Alfred that he (Alfred) can't paint in front of a waitress, Alfred retorts that Lars has sold just two paintings. The waitress caresses Lars who looks poor and lost. All the time Lars is haunted by visions of black and white clothes floating around him, and occasionally of Helene standing by him in his home town of Stavenger. A master painter, Tastad, also a Quaker, approaches Lars with the offer of a job: to paint a door. Tastad morphs into his father in Lars' mind. Another friend, Bodom, mocks his love story with Helene. Alfred tells him that he is waiting for friends. Lars recalls when he was hired to paint Sundt's room yellow, and how Sundt took him to the ship for Norway's capital Christiania, with his mother and his sisters Cecilia and Elizabeth watching him leave from the pier. He was sent to Christiana to study painting. Alfred knows that Lars has been kicked out of the boarding house. Lars recalls when his father took him for the first time to a Quaker meeting, and when a waitress asks him where he is going he replies that he is going to a Quaker meeting. Then suddenly he feels that Helene is calling him, and Bodom tells him that Helene is waiting for him, alone at home. It's a cruel joke, but Lars believes it. He rushes out amid general laughter. Back at the boarding house, he sees that Helene's uncle has already packed his suitcases. Nonetheless, he walks into his old room with Helene and tries to talk to her. While he is with Helene, he sees his father walking into the ocean and smoking his pipe at the bottom of the ocean. Then his father appears in the room and Lars talks to him. Helene is scared that he is talking to an invisible person. When her mother and uncle return to the house, Lars refuses to flee. He hears her uncle and mother make fun of him, because he spent most of the time lying in bed. Then he confronts them, stating again that he and Helene are in love. But Helene is only 15, and they kick him out with his suitcases. He walks into the streets with his suitcases, with no place to go, and runs into Gude himself. Gude is not angry that Lars did not show up as planned and in fact likes his painting (Lars was afraid Gude wouldn't). Lars doesn't tell Gude why he is walking around with his suitcases. Gude is going to Malkasten and Lars would rather not enter, but Alfred comes out shouting that Helene is inside waiting for him and the gullible Lars believes it. All the people inside conspire to mock his love story and concoct another cruel prank. Lars finally realizes that Alfred is lying and that everybody is laughing at him. Lars leaves with his two suitcases and walks back to the boarding house, determined to elope with Helene to Norway, but this time the uncle gets really mad and calls the police.
In the second chapter Lars is back in Norway, hospitalized for his insanity at at the asylum run by a doctor who has forbidden him to paint until he gets better. The other inmates mock him for his artistic pretensions. Lars now hates Helene, whom he views as a whore having sex with her uncle, and masturbates thinking of her. He actually thinks that all women are whores, even his own mother and his sister. It is Christmas' Eve. The attendant Hauge catches him masturbating again and takes him to the doctor, who again tells him to stop doing that. Lars, instead, locks himself in the bathroom and masturbates again, and then, when Hauge breaks into the bathroom to stop him, Lars, imagining to see Helene in the street, runs after her and away from the hospital, while the other inmates keep mocking him and throwing snowballs at him.
The third section is set decades later, presumably after Lars has died. A young unsuccessful writer, Vidme, roamed the streets of a village under heavy rain looking for a church. He has had a divine inspiration after accidentally viewing a painting by Lars, a distant relative, and has decided to write a novel about the painter, but now he is suffering from writer's block and wants to convert to the church. The pastor turns out to be a beautiful young woman, Maria. He feels intimidated and confused, but after the meeting he heads home to start writing the novel.

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