We are very proud to announce that Vigdis Hjorth has once again been nominated to the Nordic Council Literature Prize - the most prestigious of the Nordic Literature Prizes.
She is nominated for her latest novel, Is Mother Dead.
Vigdis Hjorth made her debut as an author in 1983 and has since published 36 books. Her big break through came in 2016 with the novel Will and Testament, that was also nominated to The Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2017. The book has since been sold to over 20 territories, and it is currently being adapted for a TV-series.
Vigdis Hjorth is said to be one of the greatest of the contemporary writers in the Nordic countries today. She writes existential novels about the reasons and choices of people, and she has a sharp eye to both timely and tabooed topics of our current times. In Is Mother Dead, she further explores the mother-daughter-relationship and ventures even further into the issue that she has also written about in several other novels.
The Jury for The Nordic Council Literature Prize has the following to say about Vigdis Hjorth and the nomination:
While Vigdis Hjorth has been one of the most important authors to write in Norwegian for several decades, recent years have seen a considerable growth in her popularity. Her work has attracted more readers, more translations into different languages, more awards and many critics would also say that she is now writing increasingly better books.
Is mother dead is a frantic, intense novel that brings together many of Hjorth’s central themes – self-realisation and conflicts in close personal relationships, the question of who owns a narrative, whose perspective should dominate and the struggle to make oneself heard – all within the tight constraints of the cast of a small family.
The novel tells the story of Johanna, a visual artist. Thirty years before the story begins, Johanna made a choice: she moved to the USA to pursue her art, remarried and had a child. She hasn’t spoken to her mother and the rest of her family in Norway for many years, and what initially appeared to be an innocent breach in continuity of contact, has over time turned into an ulcerating sore.
When she moves back to Norway, she calls her mother on impulse, thinking that perhaps their knotty relationship can be untangled as long as she is willing to take the first step. Her mother, however, refuses to speak to her, and the more she resists, the more Johanna’s curiosity grows into an obsession which sees her hiding in the bushes outside her mother’s flat in order to spy on her and following her from a shop. In short, breathless chapters told in the first person, the novel’s emotional intensity surges as it explores what happens to us when we lose intimate relationships. Your image of the person you no longer know, takes on a life of its own, becoming almost more real in your imagination. And Johanne acknowledges this: “I use words to invent my mother!”
The conflict in Johanna’s family doesn’t have a clear point of origin, but revolves around fundamental disagreements about their shared history, about the family’s emotional life. Her mother and sister share one version, Johanna a completely different one. Is mother dead is partly inspired by Arne Garborg’s The lost father (1899). As in Garborg’s novel, Johanna has gone to the USA to find freedom – freedom she has used to create art about family relationships. She has, however, intended her work “Child and mother 1” and “Child and mother 2” to raise more general questions, and is initially baffled when her mother and sister react with outrage at what they see as a negative representation of the artist’s own family. The passages about the relationship between art and life – where it is by no means certain that the artist has a monopoly on hard-hitting arguments – can easily be read as a continuation of the debate about using people still living as models, which followed in the wake of Hjorth’s novel, Will and Testament (2016).
However, this is not just or even primarily an argument about art. The somewhat baffling origins of the damage – you kept in touch until eventually you stopped – examines the family dynamics with an eye on the unconscious mechanisms which don’t always match the words that are spoken. The exploration of the fantasies we have about the people who are no longer in our lives – how we invent each other with words and pictures – is applicable to all types of relationships, and the novel highlights the thin line between the dependency that love creates and the blinding rage which can follow a rejection. Anything the other party, the source of your dreams or nightmares, does, is examined down to the smallest detail. “Because we are mythical beings to one another, and because we are enemies; who isn’t curious about their enemy?”
Though the mother isn’t actually dead, the novel is a tense depiction of how people who were once very close, can become living ghosts to one another, long before their physical demise. Johanna knows that her images of her sister and mother are her own and may not have much in common with the real people behind the roles she has assigned them in her internal drama: “They’re both so far away that I’m unable to see them, instead I insert a couple of ghosts in the places where I tell myself they are.”
Is mother dead, asks the title of the novel – but without a question mark. The story itself may be peppered with questions, yet it is also a novel which considers the possibility that even the harshest statements may constitute an attempt at communication, and how it isn’t obvious that one party’s version is truer than the other’s.
Just as Johanna pursues her own curiosity with brutal consequences, the structure of the novel also pursues this drive to seek out and confront what is most painful. The novel builds to a climax of a final scene where an ordinary apartment becomes the arena of an epic battle between two colliding world views. With Is mother dead Vigdis Hjorth has written an unforgettable novel about the closest and most complicated of all relationships.
Vigdis Hjorth has also been nominated to The Brage Prize, The Norwegian Critics Prize, Young Critics Prize and The Subject Prize for Is Mother Dead.
We send our warmest congratulations to Vigdis Hjorth on being nominated, and have our fingers crossed for her winning the prize. The Ceremony will take place in Copenhagen on November 2nd.