Would you like this book? Quite possibly, if you enjoy writers musing about life as they tramp through beautiful countryside. Certainly there is some very good writing here. It was awarded the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2006, and the website Gylendal says of Espedal, Tomas Espedal has a personally centred literary project that he pursues and expands with fascinating force and consistency
And, particularly if you’re a walker, you’ll enjoy this kind of thing:
When boots are good, when the pack isn’t too heavy and lies unnoticed on the back, when clothes are dry and not yet saturated with sweat or rain, it’s great to walk. There is nothing better than walking, moving along unaided, putting one foot in front of the other and gliding into a kind of oblivion which is a the same time a heightened presence; we forget we’re walking we forget the act of walking and the effort of moving, while simultaneously seeing and hearing more acutely, smelling more keenly, we experience it all more powerfully: a bird flies up. The sunlight strikes the tree crowns, the earth steams. A small clump of white anemones, shining. Water that flows, still water. A stream with trout resting behind stones in a pool, we drink the water. Snow that’s melting, tracks in the snow. A carpet of bog, cotton grass, swaying in the wind. We think less when we’re walking far, we slip into a walking rhythm and thoughts cease, become a concentrated attention that is turned on all we see and hear, all we smell; this flower, this breeze, these trees, as if thoughts mutate to become part of what they encounter; a river, a mountain, a road. (283-4)
It’s unfortunate that, for reasons that are probably more to do with me than with him, I took a dislike to Espedal the man from early on. It happens to all of us, doesn’t it, that reaction against something in the tone or something said, that influences us just as much in a book as it does when we meet someone in person. The soul selects its own society/then shuts the door, Emily Dickinson said. It’s true in reading as it is in life. And it’s very hard to get away from when the book is a combination of journal, writer’s notes, travelogue, autobiography and general musing about life. Espedal seemed to expect me to be much more interested in him than I was. It wasn’t until he got together with his old friend Narve for a tramp through Turkey and Greece that I started enjoying myself. The writing about Greece is particularly good, Narve is an intriguing character, and perhaps because Espedal is out of his own familiar Norway there is a deeper engagement with the physical experience of walking and with the people met along the way.
I do feel inclined to see what else he’s capable of, so his novel Against Art (2009), which is about becoming a writer, is on my list… with a few question marks.
Tomas Espedal, Tramp, or, The Art of Living a Wild and Poetic Life (tr James Anderson) Seagull Books 2010.