Review: John Fosse’s “Kvitleik” – Condensed About Death

Review: John Fosse’s “Kvitleik” – Condensed About Death




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«Frantic, dreamy and innovative!»

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As with the three-volume novel Septology, work with leadership has begun on this year’s book as well. But whereas in the novel the main character ran back and forth between his hometown and Bjørgeven, “Kvitleik” is about a man who gets into a car just to drive. He’s not going anywhere, he just wants to move.

Alternate turns left and right at each exit. Finally, he got stuck at the end of a forest path. It soon gets dark and it starts to snow, but instead of turning back to seek help, he ventures into the woods. There he gets lost, and when he becomes cold and tired, he has a series of visions. First, a crisp white figure reminiscent of an angel, then of his parents looking for him outside and a barefoot man in a black suit.

As they become more real to him, he doesn’t know what’s going on nor who he is. Voss describes the situation in a few sentences as his distinctive use of interrogative pronouns in sentences without question marks reaches its absolute climax:

“I sit there on the round stone and look at the man in the black suit. What’s going on. Where am I actually? Yeah, I’m in the woods, but it’s not like that in the woods, is it? What’s going on.”

What is not a question

When I read the story, I was surprised that the first person constantly followed his instincts rather than common sense. When he went into the woods instead of turning back to seek help, I thought it was a comforting way to lead the man astray. But in the end I understood that Voss had written a mythical world where it is impossible to turn around. That the car be stuck is the first form of the law that applies to the whole story. Just like in some dreams, there is no turning back. This makes “Kvitleik” not only a great read, but also an unforgettable text.

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In my frantic fantasies, it was the phrase “what’s going on” in particular that haunted me. Because while reading I had involuntarily replaced Fosse’s full point with a question mark. But what happens if you read the sentence as an affirmation and not as a question? I had to find a new reading rhythm, read the sentence out loud and focus on the “what”. So “kva” is no longer an interrogative pronoun, but designates some kind of abyss or unknown thing—perhaps what we call death—occurs in the meeting.


What makes “Kvitleik” such an intense and utterly extraordinary reading experience are precisely such lines of thought. Voss gave the little word “kva” a whole new meaning, and we must learn to interpret the word in new ways.

In a senior interview in Jan H. Landro’s book “Jon Fosse – Simple and Profound” from last year, Fosse mentioned the story for the first time. There he says he is in dialogue with the play “I swarte skogen inne” which will be released later this year. However, I can’t resist reading “Kvitleik” as an extension of the last volume from the ’70s.

It culminates in contemplation of the end of life. With Kvitleik’s film, Fosse wrote a more focused story about man’s strange relationship to death. Yes, it is as if the death drive controls the actions of the first person from the first sentence to the last.

“Kvitleik” is simply great literature!

Ashura Okorie

Ashura Okorie

"Infuriatingly humble web fan. Writer. Alcohol geek. Passionate explorer. Evil problem solver. Incurable zombie expert."

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