Jon Fosse says he would have stopped writing 40 years ago if he had listened to critics | Books

Jon Fosse says he would have stopped writing 40 years ago if he had listened to critics | Books

The Norwegian author Jon Fosse, winner of this year’s Nobel prize in literature, has said that his first books were “quite poorly reviewed” and that if he had listened to critics, he would have stopped writing 40 years ago.

Fosse, whose works include the Septology series of novels, Aliss at the Fire, Melancholy and A Shining, was awarded the Nobel prize in October “for his innovative plays and prose, which give voice to the unsayable”.

Delivering his laureate speech on Thursday afternoon, he also said that there were “many suicides” in his writing and that he was “afraid” that his work “may have contributed to legitimising suicide”, according to an English translation published on the Nobel prize website. However, after receiving the prize, he was “touched more than anything” by readers who “candidly wrote that [his] writing had quite simply saved their lives”.

“In a sense, I have always known that writing can save lives. Perhaps it has even saved my own life,” he said. “And if my writing also can help to save the lives of others, nothing would make me happier.”

Fosse used the speech to reflect on his life, and recounted an episode at school when he was asked to read aloud and was “overcome by a sudden fear”. He ran out of the classroom, and later told his class that he had “had to go to the toilet”. He felt his fear took language away from him, and that he “had to take it back”. He found writing gave him “a sense of safety” and “the opposite of fear”.

He drew comparisons between music and writing, explaining that as a teenager he went from “only being engaged with music” – at one point he aspired to be a rock guitarist – to writing. “In my writing, I tried to create something of what I experienced when I played,” he said.

Fosse went on to discuss his writing process. “When I write, at a certain point I always get a feeling that the text has already been written, is out there somewhere, not inside me, and that I just need to write it down before the text disappears,” he said.

He added that the fact that his novel Septology does not contain a single full stop is “not an invention”. “I just wrote the novel like that, in one flow, one movement that didn’t demand a full stop,” he said. The novel is about an ageing painter, Asle, living alone on the south-west coast of Norway and reflecting on his life.

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