Kjell Askildsen's characters are surrounded by absence. Filled with disquiet, and longing, they walk to a fjord, they smoke, they drink on a veranda, they listen to conversations that drift through open windows.
... the style is stripped—few adjectives, little setting or atmosphere, but all emotion, with tension often instantly delivered on the first page, sometimes in the first line ... there is an old-world pathos to these stories; their public face is stoic, but one often sees them in private hours where they pull the rug out on their personality to give the reader the chance to clasp their essences tighter ... Because they are stripped down, the stories are almost parabolic, but the pungent dialogue and diabolic thoughts and feelings of the narrators often offer much more than commentary ... This might not have been a book to change my life (does one really know that a book has changed their life until months or years later?), but it did something as powerful: it made me remember fiction-making is about communication ... What takes some writers 7,000 words, Askildsen accomplishes in 1,000[.]
Deftly translated by Séan Kinsella, this selection of odd, austere yet transfixing stories from various points of Askildsen's long career showcases his stylistic verve and his relentless scrutiny of human frailties and absurdities ... In the space of just six pages Askildsen manages to perplex, unsettle and even amuse his reader ... The trick here and elsewhere is not to ask who's who or what's what. Instead it pays to just succumb to the strange and inexplicable circumstances, to accept each peculiar encounter or bizarre cause and effect ... We might not always understand his characters' actions, much less their thinking, but it is hard not to be entranced by his stripped-back prose, or the original way in which he depicts the agony of empty lives and the trials of everyday existence.
Mundane objects that carry emotional weight—raincoats, hair ribbons, cups of coffee—bring the stories alive. Askildsen uses first and third person, sometimes switching between the two within the same story, to capture his characters’ emotional states from interior and exterior vantage points ... Askildsen frequently uses dialogue to capture the characters’ feelings, communicating frustration, irritation, and mistrust through short but evocative exchanges ... At two to three pages long each, the shortest pieces are best understood as vignettes that capture static moments in time, without the depth of the book’s longer stories, which better speak to the collection’s interest in emotional drama within the spaces they make for meaningful description and details ... In the short stories of Everything Like Before, loneliness, despair, and longing are described with devastating nuance.