The first book I've read in 2010 and already a front runner for the best book I'm going to read. A bit like the quote "like Prefab Sprout" in a music review seems to result in me buying a copy. The same can be said with any book review that is described as being in the style of John Irving. I've been bitterly disappointed many a time, but with the period between Irving's fiction getting longer and his later work a bit more patchy I still keep giving it a go.
This Norwegian book could almost have been written from a "how to write an Irvingesque novel" manual. Having said that whilst elements of the plot and the story telling technique do remind me a bit of Hotel New Hampshire the writing has a style all of it's own.
Washed up scriptwriter Barnum looks back on his life in an eccentric extended family in Oslo and in particular his relationship with his half brother Fred. The plot takes in 4 generations and as with Irving the tone mixes comedy and tragedy, the funnier the passage the bigger the tragedy awaiting with all the main characters having fatal flaws and a great capacity to simply mess things up. Over the course of the 700 or so pages we're exposed to rape, suicide, illness, alcoholism and death by discus. However the writing is so skilled that the themes of love friendship and family means that you can't help but be continually uplifted by these flawed characters.
If I were to have one criticism then the novel loses it sway a bit with the modern day Barnum, but only (again as with Irving's Owen Meany) as the young Barnum is so well drawn.
Christensen manages to somehow make the extraordinary seem ordinary ie you never lose your sense of belief in what happens to the family and keeps you gripped to the very end.
So I'll repeat the review I read. "If you like John Irving then give this a go"
You can buy the Half Brother here