Saturday, January 12, 2013

Doppler by Erlend Loe

Some books just hit a nerve, as this did in Scandinavia where it became a bestseller when it was first published in 2004. Just republished in English by Canada's The House of Anansi, this hilarious comic novel about a worthy man's mid-life crisis is destined to be a huge hit in North America. Just about everyone I know needs a copy of this--for its humor, insight, and recognition of our commonalities across national boundaries.

Our narrator is Doppler, a man confused and unmoored by his success. He rails against the Americans for having the temerity to begin a controversial invasion of Iraq while he, busy executive that he is and all, is having his bathroom redone. How on earth is he supposed to concentrate on tile choices? Trust someone to do something truly disturbing just as he is wishing to enjoy the spoils of his wealth.

Mad for cycling (“as a cyclist you’re forced to be an outlaw”), he falls off his bicycle in the woods one day and hits his head. He decides he doesn’t (and perhaps never had) like people. And he is much too nice. “Even when I’m alone and I’ve decided not to be nice, I’m nice. It’s a sickness.” He decides to straighten out his priorities and heads for the woods.

It is difficult to choose just one thing about Doppler that is so very intoxicating, for his adventures and his inherited attributes (“Chopper Doppler”) rival his philosophies for attention. We see the world from the cramped tent of a curmudgeon and we want to see more of him…as does everyone else he runs into. Having decided to be on his own, Doppler finds he has acolytes who follow him everywhere, starting with the moose…

I loved this short novel from its opening pages, mostly because Doppler is so very nice, and civilized. It laughs at the human condition while demonstrating that indeed we can’t really escape ourselves or each other. Perhaps this novel could only have been written by someone who’d experienced the angst and ennui of affluent society, and may only appeal to the same. I found it utterly refreshing and reassuring to find such high-minded humor in such a small package.

A word about the publisher: The House of Anansi Press is fast becoming my favorite press-to-watch for really fine, accessible selections of recent foreign-language literature translated into English.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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