Literatur mit dem Blick der Journalistin

Uli Rothfuss im kunstportal-bw: | Buchtipps | Literarisches Leben

Ein Interview mit der grandiosen Erzählerin Kristin Valla.

Es gibt immer wieder Autor*innen, die mich als Leser ganz besonders beeindrucken, die mich mit ihren Werken berühren. Oft sind dies Verfasser von Literatur in kleinen Literaturen, die wunderbar übersetzt sind. Eine von ihnen ist Kristin Valla mit ihrem Roman „Das Haus am Fjord“ – das ich kürzlich besprochen habe.

Kristin Valla ist 1975 geborene, norwegische Autorin, Journalistin und Lektorin, sie ist im norwegischen Nordland aufgewachsen und schreibt u.a. für das Dagbladet Magasinet und die Zeitung Aftenposten. Ihr erster Roman „Muskat“ erschien 2002, „Das Haus am Fjord“ ist ihr dritter Roman (mare Verlag, Hamburg 2022).

Kristin Valla,; © Foto:  Birgit Solhaug

Die Autorin verfasst sehr atmosphärische, dichte Romane, und gerade ihr jüngstes Buch „Das Haus am Fjord“ lebt auch vom Verhältnis der kargen, eindrucksvollen nordnorwegischen Landschaft und den starken Charakteren des Romans. Kristin Valla geht mit dem sezierenden Blick der Journalistin in das Erzählen, schonungslos und doch ergreifend. Die Lektüre ihres Romans fesselt und zieht den Leser unweigerlich in Handlung und Landschaft.

In einem Interview mit der Autorin hinterfragt Uli Rothfuss das Arbeiten und die Herangehensweisen an das eindrucksvolle Erzählen in einer kleinen, imposanten Literatursprache.

  1. Kristin, your novel is strongly dependent on the strong, sea influenced landscape at the coast of northern Norway. Do you have also this impression, is it your wish to catch the reader with – for the German one surely quite strange impressions about a strong, nature based life near sea, and is this your personal experience you tell us?

Kristin: The village where I grew up, Finneidfjord, is a so-called isthmus, a small piece of land with a fjord at both ends. It makes the landscape quite unique and beautiful, but as a child I did not think it was that special, as I spent almost my entire childhood there and saw it every day. When I was 15, I moved with my family to a town in the south of Norway. I think that when you move away from a place, you start to see it in a different way, almost like fiction. As most of my close family was not there anymore, I did not really go back a lot to visit it, and so to be able to write about it in this novel almost felt like coming home. When I started writing the story, I worked on it for quite a long time before I went back to Finnedfjord and retraced my own footsteps as a child. I think I was afraid that if I did, it would become a different place than the one I remembered. But thankfully, it did not.

  1. Of course, the question: are there, especially concerning the family tragedy of nature catastrophe and the loss of brothers, family members, personal experiences you work on in this book? Or was it a mean to argue the father’s disapperance by that occurance?

Seven years after I moved away from Finneidfjord, there was a big landslide in the village which tore away a piece of the road, a beach and several houses. Four people were swept at sea and one of them was never found. It might me start to think about what happened to this person. What if this person was not simply lost at sea? What if something else occurred? I thought about this accident for many years before I actually started writing the book. It is a fictional story, but the scenery and even some of the characters are drawn from my own life. I used my own father as a sort of model for Bjørn, the father in the book, but only as a «shell» that I could fill with this other made-up character. I did call my dad a lot when I worked on the book and asked him about what is was like to be an adult in the 1980s, so that I would also be able to see the story from that perspective.

When I grew up in Finneidfjord, my family was not a typical family in the village. My parents travelled a lot, we had many visitors from abroad, our house looked different from the other houses. For a long time I thought it would be impossible for me to write something from the village, because we were so different from the other families that lived there. But as this story gradually started to evolve, I realized that my own background would be the perfect framework for the story. The novel is very much about what lies beneath the surface and what is made visible in our lives. I grew up in a time where openness in many ways became the norm, but many of the people in this book (especially the mother) chose to bury things – quite literally – at the bottom of the sea. And perhaps this was necessary. I have a lot of empathy and affection for these characters, even though they made choices that are perhaps not always easy to understand. 

  1. As i know, you work also as a journalist. I find, in your book there is sometimes a journalistic view on what happens. Do you agree?

I’m so glad you asked me this question. I do think it has a journalistic view at times, and this is probably due to the fact that I have worked many years as a journalist myself and that the novel is written in the first person. First person is a really challenging form. When I finished the book, I said to myself: I am never doing this again! But the voice of Elin is also the voice of a journalist. This is her profession, so it’s not so unnatural that she would tell the story in this way. I actually tried, at one point, to write the novel in the third person, but it just didn’t work. It had to be her perspective. The reader only knows what Elin knows, she is our only source of information. When the book was finished, I spent a long time getting the voice of Elin out of my head. She kept creeping into everything I wrote, which is interesting. But perhaps not so strange, as I had «lived” with her for such a long time.

Many people have also asked me about the description of the places in the book, such as the mansion in the south of France. «How are you able to describe it in such detail?» they ask. I think, being a journalist, it’s always easier to describe things visually when they are real. The French mansion actually exists – I had first intended to end the book in England, but then I stumbled upon this rather remote bed and breakfast purely by accident while traveling in France. There was something about the atmosphere of the place which captured both me and my family. My son actually said to me: «You know, Mom, this whole place is like a novel». And I thought: You are absolutely right. This is where the book will end.

  1. The combination of a love story and the loss of a house which integrates strong rememberings on family, lost family, disturbances with mother’s behaviour, makes the novel in a confrontation of love and loss very strong emotional. Are you as author an emotional person, bringing this into your literature? I know, this is a very maybe intimate question, but it seems me very interesting, how you compose your novel. 

I think that, in many ways, the novel is a love letter to where I grew up. My childhood home was a beautiful house which my grandfather built, but it has since gone through various owners and has been quite altered. I’m a little heartbroken every time I see it. And even though the village is still surrounded by beautiful landscape, the place is much more quiet than it was when I lived there. This is the only grief in the book which I have actual experienced with myself – I have never lost a parent or a sibling as a child, like Elin has. While working on the book, I read a lot about grief, and at that point, as an adult, I had lost my own mother, so I was able to use that experience in Elins relationship to her mother. My intention with the book was to write a story that was exiting, almost like a thriller, but with many layers of emotion. I wanted it to be a page turner, but to also have depth. I think that is not easy to achieve, and looking back at the book now I think it is a bit too slow in the first part. But that is probably also because I am writing about a place I know so intimately. I wanted to paint a very detailed portrait of it. As I moved away from Finnedfjord, the pace in the book picks up. 

The core of the book is really about how we wish to be perceived, what we reveal about ourselves and what we choose to hide. In a way, it tells us that it is not really possible to know everything about other people, however much we try, they will always remain a mystery. But we can define the meaning they hold for us. I think the same can be said about the place I grew up. In a way, this place no longer exists. But I can still hold on to the idea of what it meant to me. And, in my case, put that into writing.

  1. Do you have literary models? How do they influence you?

Oh yes, many, but they do change over time. Or rather, they change with whatever I am writing. My books have been quite different, both in theme, style and form, and so in a way I go searching for new role models for each new project. For this novel, I would say that my main inspiration was the Norwegian author Lars Mytting. He writes beautiful descriptions of landscape, but there is also very often an exiting plot in his novels. And even though I don’t read much crime fiction, I did read up on Jo Nesbø while I was working on this book. He is a master when it comes to writing plots. 

One role model that I have had thought of throughout my own writing career, is the American author Siri Hustvedt. Reading «What I loved» was a turning point for me, it is such a rich, emotionally charged story. You asked me before about emotions, and I definitely want there to be something intimate in my work. I think she has that in a lot of her writing. I also love that she writes both fiction and non-fiction, as do I. My next book is a work of non-fiction, though quite personal. And after that, probably another novel. And of course, she is quite out-spoken. She has really asserted herself, both as a women and as an author. I very much admire that.