This week Vigdis Hjorth won yet another presigious award - The Norwegian Critics Award - for her remarkable novel Wills and Testament. Here you can read the statement from the jury:
Some good authors have the ability to write so convincingly about a person’s completely personal experiences and emotions, that it also feels deeply relevant to readers with completely different experiences and emotions who would perhaps have been excluded from these aspects of human experience – have been blissfully or woefully ignorant, but in both cases the worse off for it – had it not been for these individual, good authors.
Some particularly good authors are also able to describe a person’s interaction with the people around them in a way that makes the reader more aware of the emotional, psychological and social mechanisms that are always at work between us all.
Some exceptional and very clever authors, on top of all this, are able to magnify the experiences and emotions of the individuals they write about: they manage to lift the mechanisms in what is often high-conflict interaction between individuals up to a higher level, which means that the reader also becomes more aware in respect of the – in many cases, emotional – conflicts between the parties involved and groups of people on a political, social level.
Some exceptional, very clever and utterly unique authors do all of these things using such distinctive, precise and clear language that the reader experiences the illusion of having privileged access to a completely unique consciousness where wisdom and folly, clarity and doubt are all part of a mixture that cannot be called anything other than magnificently human. This year’s winner of the Norwegian Critics Award for Best Literary Work is one such exceptional, very clever and utterly unique author, and her name is Vigdis Hjorth.
Hjorth is receiving the prize for her novel Wills and Testaments, and in doing so becomes the eighth author in the prize’s 67-year history to receive it for the second time. Only four years have passed since Hjorth last won it, for her novel Long Live the Post Horn! – ‘Our winner is in top form!’ said the representative from the Norwegian Critics’ Association this time. Those who have followed her authorship in recent years know that Hjorth’s spiritual health as an author is always tip-top, and this is confirmed by Wills and Testaments, for which the country’s critics are honouring her this time.
Wills and Testaments tells the story of Bergljot and her conflict with her family. An inheritance dispute about two cabins leads Bergljot to re-establish contact with her family, to whom she has not spoken in several years. Her sisters insist that the dispute has to do with the taxation of the cabins – a trivial, petty conflict about money that according to one sister needs to be settled in a sensible and amicable manner. For Bergljot, the dispute is about something far more fundamental: it is about what her parents and sisters refuse to acknowledge, or even to accept as true: Bergljot’s traumatic childhood experiences. Instead they blame Bergljot for sowing seeds of discord in the family and causing heartache for their parents in their old age. A central point in the novel is therefore that it is the victim who is responsible for the level of conflict. If the victim were to hold his or her tongue, everyone could live in peace.
The depiction of the psychological and emotional mechanisms at work in this family conflict – the depiction of how an environment can mean different things to the victim and attacker respectively – would in itself be enough to make Wills and Testaments a remarkable book, but Hjorth takes her novel a step further. Using language that is simultaneously hectic, sceptical and emotional, yet also crystal clear, self-assured and analytical, Hjorth makes use of examples from international conflicts to analyse the family conflict, and she does it in a way that the family dynamic also sheds light on conflict-related themes such as reconciliation processes after war and genocide.
‘Reconciliation’, it says in the novel, ‘can only take place when all parties to a conflict are able to give their version of events.’ Reconciliation has a strong emotional component, and in the novel we are also able, through a reference to Freud, to read that Westerners before the First World War had ‘discounted the notion that intelligence is not independent of emotions’. This insight is in no way discounted in Hjorth’s novel, and her loyalty to human emotion is among the factors that contribute to making Wills and Testaments such an intelligent and clever book.
On behalf of the Norwegian Critics’ Association: congratulations, Vigdis Hjorth!
This speach was held by critic Bjørn Ivar Fyksen at the seremony at Litteraturhuset in Oslo on March 2nd 2017.
The text has been translated to english by Siân Mackie.