Reframing history: Fiction and testimony in Roy Jacobsen's the loggers

Sjølyst-Jackson,, P. (2013) Reframing history: Fiction and testimony in Roy Jacobsen's the loggers. In: Readings in Twenty-First-Century European Literatures. Peter Lang Publishing Group, pp. 161-180. ISBN 9783035304695 (ISBN); 3034308086 (ISBN); 9783034308083 (ISBN)

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Historical fiction has grown to prominence among the popular genres of the twenty-first century, yet generic labels like 'historical novel' and 'historical fiction' remain uncomfortable as terms of praise. In the context of the UK, for example, both Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall are known as historical novels that have won prestigious awards, the former receiving the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in 2008, and the latter the 2009 Man Booker Prize for fiction. The desire to give critical respectability to these books, however, was accompanied by a sense that the genre as such was being disavowed, as each prize, constrained by its 'fiction' or 'non-fiction' remit, assiduously avoided any mention of the terms 'historical novel' and 'historical fiction'.1 As Peter Childs suggests, however, it is precisely the tension or interplay of literary invention with recorded history - 'fiction' with 'non-fiction' - That forms the nexus of generic innovation in late twentieth- And early twenty-first-century historical fiction.2 Mapping recent developments in 'heritage fiction' in Britain since John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), Childs argues that novels such as Julian Barnes' England, England (1998), Andrea Levy's Small Island (2004) and Sarah Waters' Night Watch (2006) work to question the 'of ficial or accepted understandings of historical narratives (especially nation-centered ones)'.3 The 'self-conscious historiography' of The French Lieutenant's Woman entails a representation of the Victorian era that explicitly calls attention to the novel's own process of creation in the present. The result of this for subsequent authors in the UK, Childs intimates, has been a heightened appreciation of textuality and artifice in literary representations of the past, even as they return to the traditions of realist verisimilitude.4 Recent British historical fiction is thus distinguished by a continued emphasis on literary invention that eschews traditionalist reconstruction of the past in favour of its present-day reframing. In order to explore the tensions and possibilities in recent European heritage fiction outside the UK and, more specifically, within the context of contemporary Scandinavian literature, this chapter develops a reading of Roy Jacobsen's Hoggerne (The Loggers, 2005).5 This is a Norwegian novel set in the Finnish town of Soumussalmi during the Winter War of 1939. It thus entails the counterintuitive work of reframing, as a Norwegian author ventures beyond his homely, national context in order to view the Second World War from a dif ferent - 'Finnish' - vantage point. The Loggers is, in this sense, a contextual displacement that calls into question nation-centred narratives and, as we shall see, one that attends to the uncanny or unheimlich ['unhomelike'] remains of post-war reconstruction. Jacobsen's novel was published in English translation in 2007 under the new title The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles.6 Though taken from a line in the novel itself, the new title's air of Nordic-Russian exoticism, evidently designed for Anglo-American leisure consumption, misses the point. The Soumussalmi of The Loggers is not a site of 'miracles', but of violent instability, f lux and reconfiguration due to the territorial disputes of war. Jacobsen's focus, moreover, is with the gang of loggers whose identities are continually repositioned, reconfigured and redefined by territorial dispute and border crossing in times of war, dramatizing the process by which geopolitical contests destabilize the identity-status of those who happen to inhabit, or pass through, the affected territories. The Loggers, then, concerns the unstable identity-status of those to which the title refers and is a historical novel that questions whether such people could ever be commemorated, recognized or even indexed in a nation-centred archive. © 2013 by The Peter Lang. All rights reserved.

Item Type: Book Section
July 2013Published
Subjects: CAH20 - historical, philosophical and religious studies > CAH20-01 - history and archaeology > CAH20-01-01 - history
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Media and English > School of English
Depositing User: Yasser Nawaz
Date Deposited: 08 Sep 2017 09:44
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2022 11:49

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