The tale about Ingrid Barrøy, which started with The Unseen and continued with White Ocean, marked yet another break through for Roy Jacobsen. With these books he has captured new readers in Norway – and abroad. The first book in the series has been sold to 15 countries and was nominated to The Man Booker International Prize.
The Eyes of Rigel is the third book in the trilogy. A strong, epic novel about a country and a people after a great war. In this moving story about a woman that does what everyone tells her not to – Ingrid ventures out on a hazardous quest to find the young Russian Alexander, a man she had a love affair with and who is the father of her child.
In White Ocean, we were told the story about how Russian Alexander survived the sinking of the slave ship Rigel, was cared for by Ingrid and then had to flee. In the last winter of the Great War, the veteran made an attempt to get across the mountains to Sweden. Now Ingrid will attempt to do the same, in her boots and dress, with a knapsack on her back and her daughter Katja in a shawl in front of her.
Roy Jacobsen always has important matters at heart when he writes. He writes the small story and the great story at the same time. Of course The Eyes of Rigel is the story about a woman hunting for love lost, a story that turns out to be both gripping and entertaining. But this novel is also a Road Movie of 1945. The landscape Jacobsen describes open up as living and sensual to us as readers, from the coastline, over the mountain, to the mining community of Skorovas, into the woods of Sweden with its lakes and secluded bays, down to the flat and sleepy villages of Norway’s southeast. We meet the landscape the way Ingrid does, steadily walking on - with cloth diapers drying on the back of her knapsack and a naïve openness.
It is in the meetings between her and the people she meets on her way that the grand story is told. It is through the “pure” Ingrid from a remote island that Roy Jacobsen let us experience a Norway in peace. It is a vast puzzle he has laid out, many threads and stories that cross each other. This novel too tells the stories of The Unseen, those not talked about. The joy of peace and relief are not the most prominent features of the narrative, but the stories about ordinary people with wounds and scars from the war, and secrets to hide.
The Eyes of Rigel is also a novel that mirrors our own time. The destiny of the Russian war prisoners is maybe what is most gripping, the way many of them worked them selves to death building roads and railways in Norway. Some of them survived, and Ingrid needs to know what happened to her Russian. The destiny of Alexander is what pulls us through the text.
The Eyes of Rigel is a very rich novel, and you are left with a well of impressions after the just over 200 pages – both moved and impressed!
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