The soul selects its own society: Tomas Espedal’s Tramp

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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.



19 thoughts on “The soul selects its own society: Tomas Espedal’s Tramp

    1. Hi Gert — I don’t see a general place on your site to leave comments unrelated to anything in particular, so I’ll just plop this in here. Just read a BBC column that made me think of you — “Unhappy families? A novel cure. . . . How do you deal with problem parents and sibling strife? Literary agony aunt Hephzibah Anderson prescribes two readers with fiction to heal old wounds.”

      Seems like the basis for an entire novel perhaps. . .

      1. Thanks, Chicken Lady. Much food for thought in this article. We’ll put Hephzibah Anderson away in our collective thoughtbank and see what comes out of it.
        And hasn’t someone written a non-fiction book on recommendations for books to read during particular illnesses?

        1. Hmmmm — lots of links on Google with suggestions for books to read when ill, and an entire book about “How to be Ill,” [] but I’m not seeing anything like the book you mention. Trouble is, if I’m sick enough to stay home, reading is a great chore. But it’s been a very long time since I was that sick, so I might be better at it than I used to be.

  1. A very interesting review. I agree once that kind of reaction kicks in it’s very hard to shake…

    There’s a beautiful poetic quality to the passage you’ve quoted. Nevertheless, I’m probably more likely to try Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks when the time comes for something in this vein.

    1. Yes, or Nan Shepherd’s ‘The Living Mountain’ from which we quoted in the post ‘Hands”, and which has been described as ‘a poetic and philosophical testament in praise of the Cairngorms… deeply rooted in Nan Shepherd’s knowledge of the natural world.’ Nan Shepherd sounds like a very interesting woman. I’ve just ordered it so you may read more about it here.

  2. I love the title of the book regardless of its contents. I know this title in my own life and it is as unique and inexplicable as each individual.

  3. Our headline is misleading, Sally, This isn’t the title of the book, but our description of our reaction to it. The book’s called “Tramp: The Art of Living a Wild and Poetic Life”. Unless you mean you’ve lived a wild and poetic life?

    1. Er no! The exact opposite, but that was not very satisfying ,so maybe a wild and poetic life might be the way to go!!!

  4. Maybe Norman Cousins, “Anatomy of an Illness,” in which he recounted his experience of gaining pain-free hours (and ultimately recovery from a serious illness) in large part by watching Marx Brothers movies. It seems to me that a few hours with “Crane Mansions,” or “Writing is Easy” might also qualify as curative.

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