Book Review for “Long Live the Post Horn!” by Vigdis Hjorth, translated by Charlotte Barslund.
Summary (Goodreads): “Ellinor, a 35-year-old media consultant, has not been feeling herself; she’s not been feeling much at all lately. Far beyond jaded, she picks through an old diary and fails to recognize the woman in its pages, seemingly as far away from the world around her as she’s ever been. But when her coworker vanishes overnight, an unusual new task is dropped on her desk. Off she goes to meet the Norwegian Postal Workers Union, setting the ball rolling on a strange and transformative six months.”
Age: Adult; Genre: Fiction, Literary, Women; Setting: Contemporary, Norway; Other: Translation.
When I first started reading this book, I was unsure if I had made a mistake or not. That’s because this is one of those slightly Avant Garde novels that has a whole lot of introspection, and as few diacritical marks as possible. But there was something about it that kept me reading, something that drew me in, and I couldn’t stop. Then, when I got about half way through, I started thinking that it was too depressing, that Ellinor was just a hopeless case. But then came this one story that one of the postal workers tells about finding and delivering a letter that should have been tossed because the addressee was effectively unfindable. When Ellinor goes out of her way to find out more about this story, something clicked and turned the whole book around. Now, I don’t want to give away more than this, because… spoiler, but I have to say that if you get frustrated reading this novel, do try to keep at it.
Essentially, this could be classified as a coming-of-age novel, because of how Ellinor goes through this process of being burnt out, which coincides with the disappearance of her coworker. Watching this process was absolutely fascinating, especially because it comes on the heels of Ellinor’s PR firm working to defeat an EU directive that would ruin the in Norwegian postal services (sound timely? Yeah, to me too)! Obviously, Hjorth couldn’t have known this when she wrote this book, or how much it might resonate with the American public today. Although absentee voting doesn’t come into the equation, you could imagine how it might, especially if this had been written during the virus and the run-up to national elections.
But politics aside, the thing that I think Hjorth does best here is show us Ellinor’s growth. As I mentioned, when the novel begins, Ellinor is in a very bad state, and things get a worse almost immediately. This is all the more obvious when even small positive incidents, that could bring her out of this funk, seem to only make her more miserable. Actually, I’m not sure miserable is the right word, because the problem with Ellinor isn’t depression per se, but rather a lack of motivation, combined with a lack of direction. As if Ellinor starts out like a small soul in an oversized body without the will to increase herself to fill it, not knowing how she could accomplish such a task, and unable to see if she does find a way, if that’s what she really needs to do to help herself get there.
Yet, what Hjouth does here is to force Ellinor to put that aside because there’s a job to be done, and if she can do it, this will be something much bigger than herself. This job being the attempt to quash an EU directive that would essentially hollow out the postal service. The remarkable story here is what ends up being the turning point – which itself is a story within this story – and from that point, we slowly see Ellinor take the first steps of growing into (for lack of a better word) her own destiny. This was when I realized how much I cared about Ellinor, and how much I realized that I wanted her to succeed. So, although Ellinor might be a bit on the annoying side throughout almost all of the first half of the book, I’d encourage readers to keep reading because I promise you that you will be rewarded for your efforts.
I should mention that Hojorth’s writing style (or should I say, that of the translator Barslund) was very open and accessible, which was nicely spiced with more lyrical phrases, many of which helped us feel the seasons, the cold, and even experience Ellinor’s many mixed emotions along with some of her dreams (a few of which bordered on being nightmares). I would say it was a modern artistic writing style, which meant to enhance everything Ellinor was going through, without becoming a distraction. This is why I think I can easily recommend this book, but I know it really won’t be for everyone. This book is really for lovers of modern, women’s literary fiction, that’s slightly edgy, but not too “out there,” and I feel it deserves a very healthy four out of five stars.
Verso Books released “Long Live the Post Horn!” by Vigdis Hjorth translated by Charlotte Barslund on September 15, 2020. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.
This is a little bit late for this, but better late than never!