By Erlend Loe
House of Anansi Press, Inc., 2012
Did a bonk on the head drive Doppler mad, or knock some sense into him? Is it madness or genius to leave behind a pedestrian life of niceness, family, money, work and Teletubbies to live in the woods with a moose calf?
Madness? Or genius? As I read about Doppler’s adventures, I thought either, “He has lost his mind,” or “What a brilliant insight.”
Doppler believes a tumble from his bicycle and a blow to his head opened his eyes to a clear-eyed, inspired view of reality. He looks back on the life he used to live as madness: “For weeks it had irritated me that they couldn’t wait to start bombing down there [Iraq] until we had finished doing up the bathroom.” But his wife, his brother-in-law, and his teenaged daughter shake their heads at his lunacy. “. . . and what should I say to those who ask? my wife has said several times with desperation in her voice.” His four-year-old son is the impartial observer.
The book begins with “My father is dead,” and the tricky nature of father/child relationships runs as a theme through the book. In his mad/genius way, Doppler even names the moose calf after his father: “I’ll call the calf Bongo after my father, I decide as I’m strolling back into the forest. Even though my father wasn’t called Bongo I’ll name the calf Bongo after him.” His father was present, but absent. Does Doppler absent himself from his family to be more present for them?
Doppler sees “niceness” as a sickness and advocates a return to a barter economy. From his newly adopted home in the woods he looks down in Grinch style on the lives of people below: “One problem with people is that as soon as they fill a space it’s them you see and not the space. Large, desolate landscapes stop being large, desolate landscapes once they have people in them. They define what the eye sees. . . . In this way an illusion is created that humans are more important than those things on earth which are not human. It’s a sick illusion.”
Once I began reading Erlend Loe’s rebellious fable, I had to keep reading, mainly because I wanted to see what he would come up with next. Sometimes lightly humorous, and sometimes just plain light, sometimes darkly humorous, and sometimes just plain dark, this story entertains as it turns our perspectives on life upside-down.