“An extremely impressive and monumental work about a unique scientific expedition.»
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With this scene, Vittel Lied Larsen opens his impressive and hugely monumental work about a unique scientific expedition to the global outpost that is Vardø. It is about a rare astronomical event that occurred on June 3, 1769. Then the planet Venus passed the disk of the Earth, and with the then modern zodiac signs, one could observe this for the first time. By sending missions to different places on the Earth, it will be possible to collect numbers and thus measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun: this will be the most important scientific fact in 2000 years.
A complex novel
“The wages are poor, the climate is unforgiving, the population is violent, and the Jesuits have no access to the kingdom. “We have to travel armed, under a false identity, and incognito,” says Maximilian Hill to the Hungarian linguist Šajnovich.
The two were tasked with making the 5,000-kilometre journey. In Trondheim, they brought the botanist Jens Fini Borchgrevink, who had studied with Carl von Linnaeus. Lied Larsen has built a rather long and complex fictional story around these historical figures. It changes every second act between Borchgrevink and Hell. It includes letters from the early astronomer Simon Newcombe, written a hundred years later. Newcomb investigates whether it is true that Hell was a fraud who deceived the entire world with his notes. Newcomb is also a historical figure.
Envy and bitterness
“Isn’t it strange that those who rise never notice when the fall begins? They think they are still rising. Only those who are at the bottom think they are always at the top,” says Borchgrevink, the book’s main character.
Much of the narrative revolves around his failure as a scientist, his envy, bitterness, and mistakes. It’s about an exciting sea voyage, about moray eels and killer whales, about passion and poisoning and murder – and about a very brutal society up north.
Among others, Vettel Lied Larsen wrote 1001 Nights (2013) and Lucia’s Last Journey (2021), both brilliant documentary novels. Leed Larsen rarely writes so easily and well, and he is great at capturing the zeitgeist through language, genres, details, ideas, smells and atmosphere.
One of the most fascinating things about this book is the true story of the linguist Šajnovich, who was the first to find the relationship between the Hungarian language – or Finno-Ugric – and the Sami precisely on this expedition. This is exactly what is beautifully portrayed: “The Sámi community is on a par with ours,” said Šajnovich, “but it is more complex – beautiful – surprising –.”
“The Astrologers” is too chaotic and wordy to be considered a truly successful novel. But Lied Larsen writes so well that we can live with that.
“Infuriatingly humble internet trailblazer. Twitter buff. Beer nerd. Bacon scholar. Coffee practitioner.”