Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Review: Doppler, Erlend Loe


Erlend Loe

Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw

Head of Zeus, 2012 (2004)

I have been waiting for another of Erlend Loe's books to be translated into English ever since reading Naive. Super, one of my absolute favourite, I-want-you-to-read-it-but-I'm-not-giving-you-my-copy books. When I received a copy of Doppler for Christmas, I had to stop myself diving straight in and devouring the whole thing. (It's a pretty short book.)

There's always the fear with a highly-anticipated book that it won't live up to expectations, and Doppler does start rather unconventionally by having Doppler himself killing an elk in the forest, but a few pages in there is a wonderfully long and involved rant about children's television and a dissection of the role of the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine, which made me laugh out loud and convinced me that this was another Loe novel worth savouring.

Doppler's father has recently died, and when he is out cycling one day he falls off his bike and has an epiphany of sorts: he will live in the forest and leave behind his old life, which Doppler has come to believe is tainted by consumerism, conformity, aspiration and too much 'niceness'. Discussing his decision to leave his family and his home back in a suburb of Oslo, he says: "I'm not exaggerating when I say my wife thinks it's strange that I'm living up in the forest now. She doesn't think much of it, it seems. I don't blame her."

It is Loe's writing that I love and that I find so funny and tragic all at the same time. It would be wrong to say Doppler is on a quest to honour his father, because part of his living-in-the-forest is a decision to do nothing, to stop being useful, and to simply cultivate boredom alongside the baby elk, Bongo, who Doppler has adopted and who quickly becomes his best friend. Yet honouring his father - or, perhaps, simply remembering him - is a central theme of the book, triggered by Doppler's realisation that he didn't know his dad at all, after his mother shows him a collection of photographs his father took while he was alive, all depicting a place he'd done a piss.

There is a slightly absurd quality to Doppler, and this is where a lot of the magic seems to lie. Doppler is frustrated with his teenage daughter, Nora, who is obsessed with Tolkien and all things Elvish, and is eager to rescue his young son Gregus from the trappings of middle class life before it's too late. He attends a parents' evening at his wife's request, and shocks the other parents with his unkempt appearance; he invites a burglar into his family's home; and he befriends a neighbour who is also attempting to come to terms with his father's death. Doppler is a sympathetic character, a man trying to come to terms with his life and wider society, never vindictive but often frustrated with the pedantry of other people, dinner parties with fake friends, and the endless arguments over which bathroom suite is better.

Throughout, Loe's writing (brilliantly translated) is blackly humourous, sparse and funny. It's the tone that made Naive. Super such a joy to read, and Doppler has a similar feel: understated, hopeful and despairing all at the same time. Doppler's attempt to discover what really matters with the help of a baby elk and a tiny tent  is sometimes touching, often hilarious and always unique.

"I am a cyclist. And I'm a husband and a father and a son and an employee. And a house owner. And lots of other things. We are so many things."

Overall rating: 9.5/10

Book source: Received as a gift from my dad.

Doppler counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.


  1. Sounds fab, and I've never read a Loe book, so I've got more literary discovery ahead of me :)

    1. Haha, I am a bit obsessed with him - but I'd definitely recommend giving his stuff a go!

  2. This sounds really interesting - and I'm always attracted to books that question the trappings of modern life. It's like a modern day Walden, it seems. I'll add it to my translation challenge list - thanks for a great review.

  3. I'm so glad it lived up to your expectations. I will have to read more of his work.


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