It is only when I read a novel with a structure dissimilar to my usual favorites, that I realize how I am missing out on so many non-English-speaking authors. Hanne Ørstavik has been on my radar for quite some time, as her 1997 novel Love (translated into English into 2018) got quite a lot of buzz.
Our titular pastor, Liv, has recently moved from studying theology in Germany, to “take the cloth” in Norway. As if being a female in a male-dominated profession isn’t complicated enough, she is also mourning for a recently departed friend, and comforting the parents of a local teenager who has taken their own life. The move to a seemingly “quiet” life is not all Liv expected it to be.
The Pastor is about so many things. One of the many things addressed is the power of words, as Liv’s area of study was concerning an incident in Scandinavian history where varying translations of the Bible led to violence towards the Sámis. Liv also obsesses over things she said (and didn’t say) to her now-departed friend, searching for reasons.
The structure of the novel really interested me. I’m used to reading books where plot points are seeded, and then come back into the narrative later. The Pastor was almost like a stream-of-conscious novel; some things stayed in focus, but others just came and went. There was no big “reveal” of the hidden, sordid life of the the local teenager who committed suicide, nor any real resolutions. In this way, it made the novel feel incredibly real.
I also loved Orstavik’s writing style; it was almost hypnotic, and very comforting. There are no chapter breaks throughout the book, but once the reader is sucked in, it is very hard to break away. Plus, it helps that the central character, Liv, whose voice leads us through the novel, is incredibly likable.