The Pastor

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Pub Date 19 Oct 2021 | Archive Date 30 Sep 2021

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A major work of contemporary fiction from a “leading light of international literature” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), Hanne Ørstavik, whose last novel, Love, won the PEN Translation Prize.

A thought-provoking, existential novel – as Liv searches for meaning and identity in her own life, she must find the words to connect, comfort and lead others.
Liv, an intense and reticent theologian, moves to a bitterly cold fishing village to take up a post as the church’s new pastor following the death of her friend, Kristiane. In the upper rooms of a large house overlooking the fjord, Liv plans her sermons and studies the violent interplay of Norway’s Christian colonial past. She trails downstairs into the apartment below for dinners and breakfasts with a widow and her two children. As Liv becomes acquainted with the villagers and their own private tragedies, memories bloom in passages that urgently question the unpredictable bedrock of language, and the peculiar channels of imagined experience as it might have been, if only there had been a different set of words, or an outstretched hand.
The past mingles darkly with the present, cascading in chilling images: a dog lying dead in the snowy plains, Kristiane’s teeth flashing as she laughs, a procession of singing, knife-carrying protesters curving along a river’s edge. Martin Aitken’s translation of this extraordinary novel rings with the brilliance and rigor of a master.
A major work of contemporary fiction from a “leading light of international literature” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), Hanne Ørstavik, whose last novel, Love, won the PEN Translation Prize.


Advance Praise

"In Ørstavik’s deeply thoughtful and captivating latest (after Love), a woman spends a year in Kjøllefjord, Norway, as an assistant pastor . . . The various threads shuffle seamlessly in Liv's head and build to a heartbreaking crescendo, filled in with brilliant descriptions of the flat landscape (a church above the fjord sits “brilliantly white... on a dish of darkness”). Ørstavik distinguishes herself as a leading light in international literature. "—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Praise for Love:

   • In this swift, elegantly constructed novel, Hanne Ørstavik masterfully conveys a sense of entwined dread and longing that doesn't let up for a second. From the opening page to the powerfully moving finale, this tale of a mother and son is riveting. The characters' inner lives are illumined by a beautiful eeriness, and the translation's precision and clarity do justice to the novel's intensities. Read it: it'll bat around your brain for a long time afterward. -- Martha Cooley
   • Ørstavik's mastery of perspective and clean, crackling sentences prevent sentimentality or sensationalism from trailing this story of a woman and her accidentally untended child. Both of them long for love, but the desire lines of the book are beautifully crooked. Jon wants his mother, and to be let in out of the cold...the cold that seems a character throughout this excellent novel of near misses. -- Claire Vaye Watkins, New York Times Book Review
   • A haunting masterpiece... The deceptively simple novel is slow-burning, placing each character into situations associated with horror - entering an unfamiliar house, accepting a ride from a stranger - and the result is a magnificent tale. -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
   • Prizewinning Norwegian Ørstavik follows the parallel courses of a single mother and her 8-year-old son during a night that moves unrelentingly toward tragedy... A nightmarish sense of impending doom hangs over these carefully detailed, tightly controlled pages... icy cold to the core. -- Kirkus Reviews
   • Point of view works like a spot of living light in this slender book, with deft perspective shifts occurring between Vibeke, a hardworking, distracted mother, and Jon, her curious, lonely young son, on nearly every page. Mother and son are each on a separate journey, but the reader watches their whole shared life, as memories are folded expertly between breaths in Orstavik's urgent, visually vivid present tense - what a lovely shape. Nothing is wasted. And I'm astonished by the precision and poetry of Martin Aitken's translation from the Norwegian. -- Gina Balibrera, Literati Bookstore
   • A creeping sense of unease is ratcheted up by the cool, lucid prose and how the paragraphs shift between mother and son, clarifying how close they should be and how close they aren't... Multi-award winner Ørstavik offers an unsettling read that most will enjoy. -- Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
   • Love can change everything. And it does in this edgy, elegiac and beautifully written novel...What you think will happen doesn't - and what does breaks your heart. -- Kerri Arsenault,
   • Ørstavik's ingenious device is to toggle between their two consciousnesses from one paragraph to the next, so that their narratives run as though on parallel train tracks, never to meet, even as they lie cheek to cheek. Layers of unremarkable everyday intimacy and acres of emotional distance are compressed between the lines ... Ørstavik has found fertile territory here in which to dig into the raging solipsism of the inner life ... We are all sealed worlds, Ørstavik seems to suggest; it's dark outside, and it's dark inside too. -- Justine Jordan, The Guardian

"In Ørstavik’s deeply thoughtful and captivating latest (after Love), a woman spends a year in Kjøllefjord, Norway, as an assistant pastor . . . The various threads shuffle seamlessly in Liv's head...

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ISBN 9781953861085
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Featured Reviews

A melancholy and strange reading experience. Conjures a time and place remote from my own. Would like to see more translations from this author.

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My thank to NetGallery and Archipelago Books for an advanced copy of this Norwegian novel. The Pastor by Hanne Ørstavik is a novel that makes the reader slow down. No matter what is happening outside so much is discussed and shared by the narrator, so eloquently, and sometimes painfully that you have to slow down to take it in. That and descriptive passages about snow, people, teeth, and loved ones. The is no skimming in this book, this is a very immersive experience. The book is sad, but very beautiful, full of meaning and pain. Liv is a young theologian who takes a job far in the north of Norway in a small village as an assistant pastor. Liv is mourning the loss of her very good friend, whose presence haunts the book. Liv is not happy, and not very good at her job, at least not yet, but she is trying. As she learns about the people around her, the burdens they carry, their emotions and biases she finds herself trying to change, even if those around her are very resistant. The book is about loss. Losing someone, surviving loss, losing culture, losing religion, losing yourself in others. I have not read anything else by this author. This translation seems to have used the perfect word everytime, making certain phrases that will stay with the reader well after finishing. I do wish I read Norwegian just to see the text as Ms. Ørstavik originally wrote it. Not a story for everyone, but definitely for people who like to try new writers, or who enjoy storytellers from outside of their worldview. A very good story.

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My full review of this excellent novel can be found here:

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