In his [Solstad's] world, every person is a machine for making a vast array of random facts cohere. The fragility of that state both terrifies and obsesses him ... In prose fittingly unbroken by the consoling narrative endpoints and fresh starts of chapter breaks, Solstad moves Singer through the decades that follow his arrival in Notodden ... There’s nothing to hold in T Singer, which is what makes it so dismaying—neither the madness of Knut Hamsun, nor the ludicrousness of Cesar Aira, nor the misanthropy of Thomas Bernhard, nor the tenderness of Philip Roth ... The only consistency in Singer’s life is his bewilderment at it, his conviction that his circumstances have nothing to do with him ... All of the whispers have been right: Solstad is a vital novelist ... riveting, restlessly searching out new shapes ... 'If you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how,' Nietzsche said. But what if, like Singer, you don’t? ... How rare and terrible it feels to encounter truly unsentimental art.
T Singer isn't a harsh judgement of its title character; indeed, there's little judgement at all. But Singer is revealed, starkly—an unusual portrayal of a character in fiction (which tends towards much bigger protagonists; Singer's life isn't average or simple, but there's little that's in any way extraordinary about it). And the novel is personal, too: Solstad emerges, occasionally, and so also near the end, as he tries to clarify and explain ... T Singer can't be reduced to a 'story proper;' the telling isn't straightforward enough, the authorial presence —even if not necessarily the direct voice—too obvious, especially in its shaping and the (shifting) presentation of the narrative, and choosing what to highlight and what to skim over. Yet that fairly simple story underneath, describing that man, Singer, and his life, from age thirty-four to around fifty, is a deeply impressive and moving one too.
The loop of anxiety induced by...memory feeds into another loop ... Singer is very similar to Solstad’s other narrators and protagonists who drift through the novels named after them, brooding on their lot by fixating on very little ... At one point Singer notices how a certain couple 'shared the same perception of reality.' Solstad’s construction of reality is uniquely his own ... I confess that this verbal world of his—mad, sad and funny—often teeters on the brink of being boring. But that feeling merges into another that is quite thrilling as the behavioral possibilities of the novel are subtly and fundamentally enlarged.
Pages are given over to analyzing the embarrassment Singer feels after mistaking someone for someone else, or the different ways he goes about buying cinema tickets. We might benignly smile, or scoff, at these antics, then recognise that we behave in similar ways, for Solstad is expert in delineating the absurdities of existence with a painful precision that brings home just how absurd they (and we) are. In taking common habits and teasing them out to almost ridiculous extremes, Solstad exposes us to ourselves.
... at once intense and restrained ... And tedium, in Solstad’s work, achieves a kind of hallucinatory power. Long stretches of T. Singer, perhaps Solstad’s most challenging work, revolve around the 'astonishingly monotonous inland route' of Singer’s train journey from Oslo to Notodden, the internal workings of the Norwegian hydroelectricity company Norsk Hydro, and how the sport of hammer throwing has become unexpectedly popular in Notodden. As ever, Solstad is at once demanding and funny.
Solstad’s style in T Singer favors rigorous exposition over plot or scene. Dialogue and action are exceedingly rare, and often interrupted by the narrator’s arguments and digressions ... scenes rely on a recursive logic that mimics Singer’s psychic life, wherein his thoughts and the sentences that frame them anxiously circle some missing center. The novel’s peculiar free indirect style seeks to trace this sense of disquiet—the 'nakedness'—that the lonely man would prefer remain hidden. We are the unintended observer, and the novel’s style mirrors the movement of Singer’s subconscious. T Singer’s formal chassis—in which the scaffolding of the psychological novel reveals itself sentence by sentence—is nowhere more apparent than in the narration. From the very start, the narrator attempts to shape our perception of reading Singer’s story, a copy of the novel held in our hands ... the sentences and style start and stop with Singer. As with much of Solstad’s best work, the author is present in the text, is bound to his text, and meets his evocative limit precisely at the limit of his literary creation.
He is a case study of a kind of terrible emptiness that Solstad anatomizes with an extraordinarily light, sure touch. The novel...proceeds like a jaunty, unforgettable tune played in a minor key. Solstad, who has received the Norwegian Critics’ Prize for Literature three times, in nimble, occasionally sardonic prose, limns a pitiful man 'who, not for a single moment, harbored any conviction that his life could have been any different.'
Singer is, let us say, not adept at coping; as Solstad writes, it’s hard to imagine that he, too, 'can be the main character in any novel at all, regardless of quality' ... Knut Hamsun remains the king of Nordic gloom, but Solstad gives him a run for the money in a story at once traditional and postmodern.
Solstad’s unusual, entertaining novel of restrained humor follows its protagonist, T Singer, over a lifetime of nonengagement ... The prose repeatedly swerves into digressions about minutiae ... The novel brilliantly shows the humor and pain of obsessiveness, and the anxious, analytic Singer emerges as an enduring creation.