'An island is a cosmos in a nutshell …' The setting for this Norwegian bestseller, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw and now shortlisted for the International Man Booker prize, is a speck of rock off Norway’s coast at the start of the 20th century ... This is a profound interrogation of freedom and fate, as well as a fascinating portrait of a vanished time, written in prose as clear and washed clean as the world after a storm.
...even by his high standards, his magnificent new novel The Unseen is Jacobsen’s finest to date, as blunt as it is subtle and is easily among the best books I have ever read ... The weather immediately emerges as the major presence and shares its role with the vividly drawn characters ... There is a unique universality about The Unseen. Jacobsen’s prose is beautiful, clean, poised and plain-speaking, but there are interludes of Shakespearean grandeur in the dazzling descriptions of storms. The family seems to accept these vicious tempests as necessary rituals ... Jacobsen’s translators, Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, have surpassed themselves ... Yes, there is a terrific story but it is the writing that will cause most readers to read this book at one sitting ... Ordinary human tragedy frequently intervenes in The Unseen. Life is relentless, as are the seasons. Wisdom and resignation determine much of the action, yet Jacobsen is unafraid of introducing the more lowly elements of social behaviour. There is humour as well as stark, unsentimental pathos .... How to convey the compelling allure of this novel? Jacobsen’s inspired characterisation is well served by the gruff, convincing exchanges, his uncanny feel for the sea and nature in upheaval, and, above all, by his his eloquent awareness of the eerie sensation that a brief moment of silence can create, on an island where sound prevails.
A laconic and affecting story about fate and love, time and survival, the book is a quiet and sturdy masterpiece ... The wind and waves are an ever-present concern in the islanders’ minds. Their isolation renders them exquisitely aware of the subtle shifts of emotion that beset them ... For his part, Jacobsen finds a great deal of profound value in his observations of the courageous and dignified inhabitants of Barrøy, all told in spare language that seems simultaneously as straightforward and natural as the drifting tides and as carefully woven as his islander’s nets.
The Unseen are the Barrøys, a three-generation Norwegian family who live on their own island. Occasionally the priest drops by, sometimes a man comes to buy their produce; otherwise they are undisturbed. Sparse, sublime prose distils this life along with the elements. The subtle translation, with its invented dialect, conveys a timeless, provincial voice ... Moments of introspection are as rare and bewildering as silence in a storm ... Shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize, The Unseen is a blunt, brilliant book.
The Unseen constantly reminded me of Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly—its unsettling chiaroscuro and its setting in an island of the light nights. As in the movie, so in this novel the backdrop of the island serves as a pointer to our essential isolation and the philosophical implications of this loneliness ... But the islanders in Barrøy wouldn’t be caught dead pondering existential questions, at least consciously, simply because they cannot afford to ... The translators have expertly captured the nuances of the original, which made it to the Booker shortlist ... Since Jacobsen gives no pointer to that, you have to assume that it is the turn of the 19th century ... The Unseen reads like a tribute to that era’s realist novel, which tried to confer meaning to a fast-changing way of life by recording in detail its huge blows and small mercies, before the 20th century’s meaninglessness took over.
Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize ... The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., 'Tha’s goen’ nohvar' for "You’re going nowhere')—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants ... A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.
...[a] solemn, lyrical portrait of agrarian life ... Shaw and Bartlett brilliantly capture Jacobsen’s saga in precise prose that offers a window into each character’s point of view. This moving meditation on a family’s tenuous relationship with the natural world is worth a look.