An eccentric scientist lies dead in his coffin reflecting on the past and his last experiment--collecting random incidents from human history and finding the underlying pattern that connects them. His reveries lead him to tell two other tales--one of a doomed lighthouse keeper on a Swedish island and the other of a rivalry among Renaissance artists--and finally he tells a startling tale from his own youth.
For readers of Michael Ondaatje and Isak Dinesen, Erik Fosnes Hansen's imaginative narration brings an original and searching inquiry into why things happen the way they do and suggests a theory of "seriality"--a half-science about the power of human connections.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Erik Fosnes Hansen, born in 1965, is the author of Psalm at Journey's End, a number-one bestseller in his native Norway. He lives in Oslo.
Tantus amor florum et generandi gloria mellis.*
VIRGIL, Georgics, IV
begin. The old man was finally dead, and he had a splendid funeral. No expense was spared. The church was decorated with flowers from the altar rail all the way to the vestibule; floral wreaths had arrived from far and near, from business connections and competitors, from Lloyd's of London, from the government and the industrial association. The royal palace had sent a garland. And since the old man had also held his protective hand over a few painters, memorial wreaths had come from them, as well as from the artists' association. The family was represented by large and small floral arrangements, of course; there were wreaths from the Greek and Japanese embassies, and from several giant foreign corporations. A casual glance at the floral splendor in the old church would make one think the old man had been much loved, but there was scarcely a greeting from a single friend, because he'd had no friends. At least not in recent years. He had grown very old, and most of the few friends from his youth had crept under their coffin lids long before he did. In a sense, the old man had probably helped to drive his friends into an early grave with his difficult, nagging ways and his everlasting whims, follies, ideas, and attacks of rage that had caused those closest to him agonizing moments and long, wakeful nights. He had been one of those people who seem to absorb the strength of others, and perhaps that was why he had grown so old. He had also been miserly. For the last thirty years he'd had no close friends at all, so it was a lonesome man who lay in the oak coffin up there by the altar; respected, of course, for his power and glory, but lonely. People bowed before the casket when they came in, bowed for the mining company, for the shipping company equities and the art collection, bowed for the fruit imports and large stockholdings in the paper industry, but no one bowed for a friend. His wife had died early, and he had no living children; however, a long string of nephews, nieces, grandnephews, third cousins, and an endless number of more distant shoots on the family tree were now gathered expectantly in the three front rows of pews. It was a rare family gathering. None of them had been particularly close to him. And despite all the beautiful memorial tributes, and despite the preacher's arduously prepared sermon-he shone like a grief-stricken orange from the pulpit-nobody had really known him. With the possible exception of one person. And that possibility was what everyone feared.
Cheerful white sunlight streamed through the windows as the preacher spoke, the floral arrangements glowed in pastel spring colors and put the entire congregation in a festive mood somehow. Even the organ music in a minor key could not destroy the impression of something beautiful, something proper, here within these white wooden walls. For the expectant family the only fly in the ointment was the girl sitting there, somewhat hidden in the third row.
Now and then they stole sidelong glances at her; yes, she looked sad, but not too sad. For the most part she sat staring down at her blue corduroy skirt. It looked homemade. "Too bad she has long arms," whispered Aunt Gussi to Aunt Ella, who promptly began busily looking in the hymnbook. That Gussi-she could never restrain herself. But what if it was true, about the tattooing? At least they hadn't seen the much-discussed ring in her nose, the ring Peder always called the enfant terrible ring, whatever he meant by that. But it probably could be removed for solemn occasions.
"As we bid farewell today," said the preacher. Uncle Christian sat in a dark suit in the middle of the front row, squeezed in next to his brother Peder. Company manager Christian Bolt had a good grasp of the firm's day-to-day operation, and everyone assumed that he . . . Yes. It must be he. He was not at all sure himself. He stole a quick furtive glance at the girl sitting back there with downcast eyes. He saw only her hair, not her face. God knows what the old man might have come up with. That would certainly be a feather in Peder's cap. The thought did not make Christian Bolt very happy. And he suspected the old man might have come up with a little of everything just to annoy him, Christian. The brothers were in their fifties and were like two peas in a pod-as businessmen often are. Peder, the younger of the two, was assistant manager and had the least to do, so he was always suntanned. Christian looked at his brother's brown hand resting on the pew beside his own pale one; he felt tired and overworked, and in moments like this he sensed he was moving too quickly toward the Great Beyond. He just didn't want Peder to think he had missed out on anything. The workday in the old tyrant's service had been much too long; the old man had never wanted to die, let alone give away anything. God knows what he might have come up with. He stole another quick furtive glance at the girl.
"But Death is a friend," the preacher intoned, "who releases and opens." The sermon dragged on, and the audience began staring up into the air. A strange custom, thought Aunt Gussi, to hang a boat under the ceiling. Outside was the early summer day, bright and enticing, and lawyer Holst had already set a meeting for that evening at the old man's estate. There was much to divert attention from the sermon that day.
Despite discretion and the duty not to divulge confidential matters, the family knew the old man had been to town just once in the past year, when he had gone to the lawyer's office. Suddenly he had stood in the doorway of the venerable office on the third floor; he had climbed all the steps alone and had created an infernal commotion because the secretary did not immediately recognize him but, on the contrary, asked if he had an appointment; and also because lawyer Holst, who did not have extrasensory perception and so could not anticipate the old man's unexpected arrival, was out of the office. The old man was like a comet, a truly unpredictable one that usually stayed in distant invisible celestial spheres and only showed itself near Earth once in a blue moon. The lawyer was tracked down with the help of a mobile phone; he was in an important bankruptcy meeting at the bank, but when he heard who was in the waiting room at his office he turned pale and trembled so violently the mahogany table reverberated and instant coffee could not alleviate his shaking. Lawyer Holst left the failing bank at once and reached his office fourteen minutes later, a personal record for that distance. Then the old man disappeared into the lawyer's office and stayed there a long time. The lawyer had requested the folder containing his will, and Andersen, the old man's jack-of-all-trades, had to witness something or other along with a secretary. Then Andersen drove the old man home. And that was the last time the testator was seen in town. It was disturbing.
The preacher had much to say about the old man's long adventurous life, from the time he mined gold in Africa as a young geologist in the thirties and survived both malaria and murder attempts, to the mysterious and dubious years when he was said to have worked with rubber and rashness in the Far East and to have discovered a revolutionary new distillation method that made him even richer, until he resurfaced again in London during the war, where he attracted attention by turning up at lunch with King Haakon at Foliejon Park in January dressed in a tropical suit and sandals. The preacher had to slide over what happened after the war; he did not mention that the old man liked to shatter glasses at board meetings and that he sent his exhausted brothers to an early grave. Instead, the preacher said a few words about his support for art. After the old man moved to the family residence at Ekelund his appearances in the capital city grew increasingly rare, but he still held the business in a firm grip and regularly called the family to Ekelund to take them to task. This was also the period when he got his research notion, and when the senile old alchemist enthusiastically poured money into crazy projects, from nuclear physics to zoology and horticulture, and filled Ekelund with strange animals and things-until he disappeared entirely into great and lofty loneliness and his isolation became complete. The family gnashed their teeth. The preacher said nothing about this either.
During the final decades of his life, he had been almost inaccessible; he buried himself in his studies and his sumptuous estate with his art, his garden, and his bees.
With one exception, however. In the very last year of his life the old black sheep had had company in his tyrannical loneliness, from the family's black lamb, a slightly peripheral grandniece. Lea. Months went by before the family heard that Lea lived at Ekelund, helped the old man with the garden and beehives, and also assisted Andersen in the house. For that matter, it was just like old Bolt to shower his love on precisely her. It was very disturbing. She had been sweet as a child, they recalled, serious, mature for her age, and somewhat remote, with black ribbons in her hair-always black ribbons; her widowed mother put them on the child. But then came the difficult years, and the black ribbons disappeared irretrievably. Lea probably resembled her mother. Or maybe she simply resembled her granduncle. In any case: somehow or other these two family rejects, the old man and the young girl, had met each other. The family cast stolen glances toward the slight figure in the third row, while the preacher talked and talked, about the resurrection and the life; her face was tilted down toward her lap the whole time and was almost hidden by all the blond hair. They shuddered at the unpleasant thought of the past year's symbiosis between those two out there at Ekelund. God only knew what it might lead to.
The family thought about all of this.
"And the peace of God," the pastor quoted, "that passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and your minds."
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Harvest Books, 2003. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110156027941
Book Description Harvest Books, 2003. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0156027941
Book Description Harvest Books. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0156027941 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0969429