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A professor writing the definitive biography of Jonas Wergeland is unable to process the astonishing volume of contradictory information he unearths—until a mysterious woman appears on his doorstep. Possessing innumerable intimate stories about Jonas, the woman details the dark side of his rise to prominence, and through her stories tries to explain what made him a murderer.

481 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1996

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About the author

Jan Kjærstad

37 books115 followers
Jan Kjærstad is a Norwegian author. Kjærstad is a theology graduate from MF Norwegian School of Theology and the University of Oslo.
He has written a string of novels, short stories and essays and was editor of the literary magazine Vinduet ("The Window"). He has received a number of prizes, the most important being the Nordic Council Literature Prize, which he received for the perspectivist trilogy about the TV personality Jonas Wergeland (The Seducer, The Conqueror and The Discoverer).
Kjærstad's books are complex and humorous, showing an outstanding ability to visualize modern life and its many interdependencies, reminiscent of a less computer-focused Neal Stephenson. His books have been translated to English, French, German, Danish, Swedish, and Hungarian, among others.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
April 2, 2020
i am going to try to be as cautious as i can to avoid being a big fat spoiler. if discussing the differences in tone, and structure, and scope and characterization between the first and second of these books counts as spoilers to you, then, yes, this will spoil. (and you are a nerd) but those elements are very important to this particular reading experience and may or may not be better left to your own discoveries - that's your call. and that is my warning. but i am still going to try to be cautious.

frankly, i don't even know where to begin. usually i just sit down here and spew forth whatever is in my head at the time about the book; "moments of being" and suchlike. but this one might take a little while to absorb. the brain, she is thinking many things...

i mean, the middle book of a trilogy, the forgotten middle child which is neither the introduction to the characters and issues, nor its resolution. it just sits there, bloated and making cow-eyes... it's just - more words. although the crossing was my favorite part of the border trilogy, middles tend to get overlooked, tend to bleed into the first and last sections. (interject your protests here)

but this one is different. this installment turns the promise of the first one on its head. abandoning the mist of hagiography, by having a different narrator, it focuses on some less-than-savory characterizations of our dear jonas wergeland.(some of which made me squirm with remembered childhood mistakes and "crimes") the two books together function as a spring, coiled back into itself, slotting the dirty little secrets firmly into the golden boy image from the seducer, and spotlighting the inherent subjectivity of biography in a more interesting way than i have seen it done before: "is it possible to change a life by recounting it"??

this book rewards close readers. i think. there is a lot of mystery surrounding the characters and who is narrating and who has done what and been what to whom etc etc. i will start the third part on tuesday, so all my theories will be tested then.

things i love: the "transylvania" episode, the scene with gabriel on the boat when he is talking about the role of audience (including of course, the audience of the novel itself), the repetitive patterns and the element of magic or madness that creeps into this one. but i would love a chronology to be made of this book, the way so many have been made of infinite jest. there are a few episodes i am unsure about where to slot, age-wise. but it doesn't really matter, because the novels are all about the fact that chronology is irrelevant. the student in me just wants to be clear.

quotes that are awesome:

What if the reason for his success as a seducer lay not so much in evil as in emptiness? In the tendency which all people have for filling the emptiness with substance. And the greater the emptiness, the greater the substance.


It is in the spaces in between that things happen. Sometimes I have the urge to stop, linger, by these black holes created at the crossover point between two stories. Though it is my aim to describe all of the significant moments in Jonas Wergeland's life, I cannot rid myself of the suspicion that the really crucial stories, or keys, lie hidden here.

this book concerns itself with the hidden: "what are the dark holes in Jonas Wergeland's life?" "what parts make a person" etc. etc. what parts of a life make up a biography - what is chosen to highlight, and what omitted? but it also keeps its secrets, just as wergeland does, just as the narrator of the seducer did. even when seemingly recounting every aspect of a life, there are still hidden bits.

but i love it - i love the repetition of questions, the focus on these stories that give glimpses only, what we are allowed to see. this second part reminds me of infinite jest with its focus on the seductive power of and potential danger of television, and also bret easton ellis (i know, heaven forfend) but it does, in the beginning bit, where he is mistaken for someone else, and is treated well because of the mistake:

He had a feeling that this confusion, being mistaken for someone else, was a formative experience, that in different guises this incident would keep on recurring throughout his life. His despondency was prompted by the thought that perhaps he should not bemoan this fact: that it was, on the contrary, his only hope.

it's prettier than ellis, but it is there nonetheless.

okay - enough, really - i could do this all day, but i'm starting to bore even myself. go read, nerdlings.

and let's all thank chad for making this available to the non-norwegian-speakers among us. thanks, chad!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
May 24, 2017
This is the second volume of the trilogy which starts with Forføreren. Kjærstad has organized the material in an unusual way; the only thing I can think of which is at all similar is Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. In the first book, we got the story of Jonas Wergeland's life as a fantastic series of magical, mystical experiences, which all helped him create his life-work, the monumental TV series "Å Tenke Stort" ("Thinking Big"). I was swept away by it. But all the time, you knew that this couldn't be the whole story, since the framing device is that he's telling it over the body of his beloved wife, who has just been horribly murdered. There must be other things we don't know about.

And indeed there are. In the second volume, Kjærstad retells the story. The structure, again, is a web of different episodes, widely separated chronologically, but linked by echoes of cause and effect. You have the same verbal pyrotechnics, the same amazing flow of images and the startling sex scenes. This time, though, he is focusing on the black holes, the bad things that were left out in the first version. The master symbols - the leitmotifs - are much darker. There are two episodes in particular, both from Jonas's childhood, which act as focal points. In one, he is out on a frozen lake, trying to impress his girlfriend by building an ice sculpture. Just when it's finished, a hockey puck comes gliding out of nowhere, and brings it all crashing down. It's a lovely image of how destruction can be terrifying and beautiful at the same time. In the other episode, a very young Jonas is trying out sound effects for a radio play that he and his friend are putting together on their tape recorder. It's the story of St George and the dragon. But they have trouble with the dragon. What would it sound like? This question is repeated many times in the book. What does a dragon sound like? The author is asking an old question in a typically original way. What is evil? Where does it come from? How do you recognise it?

Gradually, Kjærstad puts the jigsaw together, and the picture that emerges is very affecting. I was indeed seduced by the first book, and it is sometimes almost physically painful to see the things that Jonas has wanted to hide in his life. It's difficult to admit that this is also him. Everything about him is brought into question, all the things he values most are shown again in a different light. But it all fits.

It's funny. A couple of months ago, in my review of The Emperor's New Mind, I hoped someone would write a book which talked about love from the perspective of quantum mechanics. I'm surprised to get my wish granted this quickly. One of the threads going through Erobreren is, indeed, quantum mechanics, and in particular the Principle of Complementarity. Kjærstad makes it clear that he's not unveiling the "true Jonas". Both versions are true, even though they appear to be mutually exclusive. It's very hard to read the book without asking tough questions about your own life. The people you've loved most are often also the people you've hurt most. Why is that? How did it happen?

I'd forgotten that one of the most interesting and original images of evil in the second volume is the complex knot which in Norwegian is called the toppstikk. I didn't know this word, and first time round I was content to read on. But now my curiosity got the better of me, and I did a little googling. It turns out that the three-looped version, which from the context appears to the be the one Jonas has trouble learning, is tied in the following way:
Again, I'm curious to know how this was translated into English. It can apparently be called a "jug sling", a "jury knot" or "masthead knot". But all of these seem wrong: toppstikk is a natural-sounding word, and also has a mystical suggestion of depth or importance. None of the English translations are anything like that. It's important, since the toppstikk is repeatedly used as a symbol.

I missed 21 grams when it came out, but a couple of days ago we finally got around to seeing it on DVD. It's a very fine piece of work, and the non-linear structure strongly reminded me of Erobreren. As several people have said, it wouldn't be a particularly noteworthy movie if it were told straight. But the director somehow finds a way to rearrange everything so that you see unexpected connections, and your thoughts go off on all kinds of interesting tangents.

The same idea is used in Kjærstad's book. The mysterious woman who's telling the story lays great weight on the order in which she presents things. I was wondering where to put this piece, she says, comparing it to a jigsaw puzzle. Now I see that it has to come after this one, and before this one.

"I'm doing it to save his life," she explains, about two-thirds of the way through.

"You mean, save it from ending in prison?" asks the Professor, who's diligently writing everything down.

"No, save it from being meaningless," she replies. "Much harder."

If you liked 21 grams, you may well like Kjærstad's amazing trilogy too.

Even on the second reading I can see there are lots of things, perhaps even the most important things, which I'm not getting. There are echoes and reflections between this and the first volume that often aren't immediately apparent. And it's far too simplistic to say that the contrast is between "good" and "evil". He has an unusual view of morality that is hard to relate to conventional frameworks.

I wish I properly understood the many references to The Divine Comedy. There is a section here which is explicitly about it, and the stunning passage at the end of the third volume must be referencing the ending of the Paradiso. He says somewhere that he considers the whole of Dante's work to be one gigantic love poem, and that is the feeling here as well. And all the time there is this impression of an complex underlying structure which I can almost, but not quite grasp.

Such an extraordinary book.

So I've now read it a third time, and I feel I understand it better... but it's one of those books where every time you believe for a moment that you've got it, you can hear it laughing at you. It's amazing that no one seems to have written a serious critical study. What are literature departments for, if not to provide help with masterpieces like the Jonas Wergeland trilogy? Anyway, a few thoughts to encourage suitably qualified researchers to stop wasting the taxpayer's money and get on with it:

- There's surely no doubt about the correspondences with the Divine Comedy. The second volume corresponds roughly to the Inferno, and the mysterious woman who comes to the Professor's house to tell the story must be Virgil. Note that her Easter visit coincides with the dates for the action of Dante's poem.

- The central images will keep people busy: they are powerful and beautiful, but what do they mean? The silver brooch, which is also the knot his grandfather teaches him and the nest of vipers that the young Jonas discovers under a rock. The hockey puck, which destroys the ice castle. The pearl. The transformer with its omnipresent humming sound. The dragon, which keeps turning up in different forms, most often the wood carving where the shape of the dragon's head is woven together out of four swans. I almost feel I understand the connections between these apparently very disparate things, but when I try to write them down they disappear like Jonas's dream of God.

- The whole form of the book. Each volume is written in a completely different way. The first, Forføreren, lives up to its name and seduces you with its irresistible warmth and sensuality. The second, Erobreren, is equally successful at conquering you with its brilliance and strength, which at the same time contains a powerful undercurrent of something chilling, calculating, almost evil.

Onward to the final volume... what will I discover in Oppdageren? Dante loved threes, and a third reading of a third book is a good omen.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,297 followers
March 10, 2009
after reading: This is an incredibly difficult book to review. Between the metanarrativity and the densely complex storytelling style and the historical trivia, not to mention structuring it all as a very intellectual whodunit (kind of)... well, it's difficult to even unravel what I think, let alone write it up in a tidy little review. So please bear with the untidiness, at least.

The Conqueror is the second volume in a trilogy (the first is The Seducer and the third, which comes out next year, is The Discoverer) about Jonas Wergeland, an astonishingly famous (in the world of the novel) television personality. Jonas is the creator of the television series Thinking Big, which celebrates great Norwegian men and women, each episode focusing on one person – explorers, composers, ballerinas, scientists, etc. The descriptions of these televisions shows, which are liberally sprinkled throughout the novel, are meticulously detailed, brilliantly shaped with cinematic language and such a wealth of description that you have a strange sense of watching TV while reading a book. Which is incredible. The other amazing thing about the descriptions of these programs is that – as near as I an Wikipedia can tell – they are about real people, real Norwegians who really did do incredible things. I of course can't speak for the reading experience this would be for someone more savvy, or more local, but for me, who had heard of none of these people before I came to these books, the experience was revelatory, giving me a social history lesson along with my fiction. Amazing.

But actually, the television programs are not what these books are about. They are about Jonas Wergeland, as vast and varied a person as you could ever hope to read about, the kind of person whose life has been so rich, so rife, that it is almost unbelievable to think about all the experiences that have been crammed into one lifetime. Or maybe not... maybe it's more a demonstration of the power of looking at seemingly mundane events and finding the incredible in them, of turning them over and over in your hands and extracting meaning which elevates them far beyond what they seemed to be. I felt this way when reading The Seducer especially, that such a charmed life is only possible retrospectively, once all the glut of meaning has been imposed upon those small events.

The Seducer felt a bit like a hagiography, if I'm being honest. It was stunning, certainly, but the picture it painted of Jonas Wergeland was very nearly too much to bear. This was tempered slightly, of course, by the fact that the entire book was in flashback, and the 'present time' was Jonas having returned from a business trip abroad to find his wife Magrette, the love of his life and another of the most fascinating characters I've ever read, brutally murdered.

And brilliantly, The Conqueror completely turns the tables. See, in this one, a professor is commissioned to write a definitive biography of Jonas Wergeland, once the most famous man in Norway, after the media circus surrounding the trial Jonas stood after being accused of brutally murdering his wife. (The Conqueror even goes so far as to mention The Seducer meta-ly, describing how the previous biography of Jonas had been so overly adulatory that no one took it seriously.) This book, then, gives the dark side of the minutia Jonas Wergeland's life, with the same meaning-applied-via-hindsight brilliance, the same examinations of a life brimming over with experiences, but this time as many bad ones as good, as many creepy wrongs as glorious rights.

All this, and I haven't even really gotten to the most important aspect of this book yet: the language. I haven't talked about the way all these stories unfold, like the memories of a stoned or half-asleep person, one tale sliding into the next and into the next, before the first is finished, or following a minor aspect of one thing off on a trail quite somewhere else. But lest you get the impression that this is sloppily done, no no no. All of these half-stories weave themselves into a crazy tapestry all the time, like those pictures of faces that are made up of a million tiny pictures of airplanes and fruit and furniture. Much is made in this book, in fact, of the nature of stories, and the order of stories, and whether, if a life is broken down into its composite stories and then reassembled with exquisite care, would it be possible for it to have a different shape, or even a different ending? If you stack up all the piano compositions and ice sculptures and trips to Japan and drunken nights just so, is it possible to wind up not having murdered your wife?

And The Conqueror saves answering that question until the very last pages. In fact, the truth is that it is saved (I can only assume) for the next book, because it is not... quite... definitively stated here. And believe me, you (the reader) will spend all 480 pages convincing yourself that things are going to work out. Because Jonas is the most complex, riveting, stormy and sensational character I have probably ever met.

(P.S., did I mention the sex scenes? There are plenty, and they are dizzyingly good. The sexiest intellectual softcore I have ever come across.)

before reading: So Open Letter, the incredible new small press all focused on books in translation, had a raffle for a proof of this book, the second in a trilogy – the first book of which I read by total accident maybe four years ago and was I just blown the hell away by – and get this: I won. I won! I have never won anything like that before.

So once I cleanse my palette from World War Z , this is so next.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
August 31, 2019
Some books defy ready reviews. This is -- and so are the other two in the trilogy -- one prime example. Just imagine you have a singular event in this person's life. It could easily be told in a few pages with complete detail, and then you stop.

This COULD have been the case with these three novels, but NOOOOOO instead we have a story and all the life's events of Jonas woven out of order like some grand linkages of a DNA chain.

The first book will always be about the golden boy and his magical penis, all the things he succeeded at. The book centered on tragedy, but more on MEANING. The second gave us a super dark spin thanks to a different narrator and we are reminded of Dante's Inferno. Jonas as a void, an emptiness that others fill because it is their nature. Of mediocracy with just a tinge of talent. Of striving to defeat the mediocracy at all expense, to conquer it.

And there's an even darker turn... of being conquered. Over and over. Not just getting beaten up, but being thrown and locked into a grave, of being ... ah, but let's not spoil it overmuch. Let's just say Jonas has had evil done to him and has let evil be done to others. He's not so much a golden boy now despite the picture we were painted with his same life in the first book.

Interesting. :)

And then there's the dragons, the pearls, and the breakdown. :) I pretty much loved all of these motifs. Really rounds the guy out for me since the first book. And the third? No idea what to expect, but I can probably expect another DNA chain. :)
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,180 followers
December 24, 2009
A review in the nature of the book itself: it is all over the shop. Others, including Oriana and Manny have doubtless done a better job...

I want to start off with gripes, big and small.

Big gripe.

As I read volume one of this, I never would have wondered about the identity of the narrator but for Manny asking me what I thought.

The one thing that was clear to me was that the narrator of The Seducer had to be somebody/thing that could be omnipresent. This is evident as there are at least a couple of things that take place in The Seducer which are known only to the perpetrator and no-one else.

Given this, technically speaking, it isn’t possible that the narrator is as identified around p. 350 in the English edition of The Conqueror. Maybe that doesn’t matter, maybe it does.

But the other thing I find very disappointing about the revelation of the narrator of The Seducer is that it makes no emotional sense whatsoever. If you disagree with me, reread the scene that stands out in The Seducer for me – the death scene of Nefertiti – and tell me that this could possibly have been written by the narrator as presented. How could there be this incredibly moving emotional connection between that narrator and that death scene.

I do hope somebody can set me right on this and explain why it is that this narrator is an acceptable device.

Little gripe.

p. 213 ‘It was not until the end of the sixties that Jonas’s Wergeland’s decision finally ripened, the one for which he had been searching for….’

Why is it that modern books can’t employ decent editors/proofreaders? Two howling errors in a sentence is ridiculous. Especially when the second one is straight out of Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die – remember ‘But in this ever changing world in which we live in’ – groan.

End of gripes.

To business.

This, from the girl who reviewed The Diary of Anne Frank in three words ‘Not enough sex’.

Well, this book, like the first, has too much sex. Like the first book, the sex is irrelevant and heavyhanded…and surely if there is anything that should be light of hand, it is sex. Please don’t tell me, going back to The Seducer, for a moment, that the sex is relevant, it is important that he has a magic penis. It didn’t seem important to me at the time, and obviously, reading The Conqueror this is clarified. He does a bunch of things quite well, and none of them are to do with shagging. Let that last statement refer both to Jonas and Jan.

Hmm. I’ve just had a thought, updating this bit later in the day. In my review of The Seducer I included some sex that I thought was an improvement on the book’s. (How is that for immodest?!) But maybe that’s the point, maybe the fun is in the writing about sex, not the reading of it. I’m generally disappointed by sex I read, unless it is from a lover. And even then, when I think more about that last sentence, I mean one lover. One lover I’d had in my life who writes beautifully about sex.

I suppose that is another gripe. Sorry.

I’m not sure why it is that anybody would have read The Seducer and thought Jonas was anything other than a nasty self-obsessed taker in every one of his relationships, fraternal or sexual, but evidently people did. The Conqueror, then, makes clear that he is anything other than a nice guy. But it does a good job of portraying Jonas as anybody. Anybody might have stolen their best friend’s most valued possession. Aided and abetted a gang rape. Spoiled his mother’s contraception. Broken the church window and then lied through his teeth about it. Everything about Jonas is absolutely ordinary. Not nice, but ordinary.

But perhaps that is not correct either. ‘Not nice’. In our day-to-day lives we have probably all met people who have watched gang rapes while seeing themselves as not involved, watched pornography involving people being hurt and not seen themselves as the perpetrators, watched somebody being abused and, doing nothing, hoped that the victim deserves it. And if we have all met somebody like that, we are also all like that ourselves. ‘All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men do nothing.’ I guess Jonas is all of us.

A while ago I asked my sweet 22 year old nephew James, if he saw a man being assaulted on a tram, what would he do? The question was prompted by a terrible scene I’d recently watched, a man was attacking a stranger on the tram, only verbally so far, but he was clearly psychotic and capable of anything. Was I going to step forward if necessary? All those on the tram were surely wondering the same thing. Were we going to be cowards?

James said, even though I’d tried to be plain that these two did not have a relationship, that he would stay cool, do nothing, how did he know what was going on? And a week later on the train home he hears the man in front of him talking to himself in an abusive way about Lebanese. James asks him to stop. The man subsequently follows him off the train and starts beating him up. James gets away, runs towards the car park as the man chases him, throwing a glass bottle at him along the way. James sees a couple getting into a car and asks for shelter. They stay cool. How do they know what is going on? They lock the doors on him. James eventually gets away.

James is nice. I imagine this couple who turned their backs on him were nice. Probably even the man who didn’t like Lebanese was nice.

Having said that, however, I am a little uneasy that I don’t feel empathy with Jonas. Well, maybe a tad now and then, but mostly not. That might be because he has been written inadequately. It might be because he is a sociopath – ie seriously not nice. But then again, read Patricia Highsmith and George Simenon and it is impossible not to empathise with their sociopaths.

Even the scene where Jonas is anally raped left me cold. You might say that this is because he himself was ambivalent towards it, but I don’t think so. It is unmoving in the same way all the sex scenes are unmoving in these books. They do not engage physically engage you and surely a good sex scene should. In the case of the anal rape, the penetration is so brutal that it is not possible for the reader to believe that Jonas would have been having the sorts of thoughts that are supposedly running through his mind. Pain and escape would have been the only reaction in reality. Still, what would I know? I’ve never been anally raped. Maybe I’d take the time to construct a shopping list…

I’ve probably asked this before, but. Does Jan have sex in his books because it is compulsory in modern books with aspirations?

The setting.

I love this aspect of the books. Background geography, politics, who’s who, culture can be a tedious filler; in this series they are anything but. I think I can speak for all people in Wallis and Futuna that we know almost nothing about Scandinavia, even less say, than Australians, since we don’t have the same penchant for Abba. Here in this series, the reading group I’ve set up is really getting to the nitty gritty of the nature of a unfamiliar country.

‘Norway never invented anything but a knife and salted fish’. The tone was rather vitriolic and I took a more careful look at the holder of this opinion. It occurred to me that whenever I see him, I’ve been reading something Scandinavian for months. He’s decided, I suddenly realize, that I have a Scandinavian lover. I mildly reply, ‘What about Aquavit?’ He snorts. ‘Danish.’ Oh, and now, the next day, as I take a look on the web, yes, I can see, it is of Danish origin.

Still, it is very much a part of Norwegian culture, we see in The Conqueror, and the most pleasant scenes in the book, the ones into which the reader might want to wander are those with the Three Wise men as they drink aquavit and eat potatoes. Note to myself as a vodka drinker, must try aquavit. I’d love to come up with a five-aquavit argument. Maybe this review needs one.

I didn’t want to get into an argument about the nature of Norwegian inventiveness, especially since I already felt like I was going to lose, so I don’t say ‘what about the Stressless chair?’

This is the sort of thing that I love in these books, observations like this.

p. 74

One evening in particular was to be of crucial significance. Jonas had been doing his homework and was on his way to the toilet when the usual metallic murmur prompted him to peek into the living room and thus he found himself confronted with a scene which he would never forget, one which stuck to his cerebral cortex like an icon: for there in the living room sat his parents, each in their chair, their eyes fixed on a screen filled with ghastly, heartbreaking reality, and yet they were so silent, so apathetic almost, that they might have been watching the Interlude fish in their aquarium. Although it’s only fair to say that when the first reports from Biafra were screened, Jonas’s parents too were, of course, appalled, they may even have wept, but by this time, six months later, their senses had become strangely blunted, they sat back in their chairs, staring listlessly at the television as if they were actually waiting for something else to come on, and this despite the fact that their eyes rested on one of those images which would be replayed again and again, with only minor variations, in the course of every famine disaster: a little girl with flies crawling over her eyes, weak from hunger, and on the ground right next to her: a vulture. Here, Jonas received an epiphanic vision of the of the true nature of Norway: this sight multiplied thousands upon thousands of times – people sitting in armchairs in front of televisions showing pictures of starving children far away.

Do we need any further comment on the nature of television? I’m flatting with somebody at the moment who has what I imagine to be a Stressless chair placed right in front of the television, just the one, since he is a confirmed bachelor. Somehow this is the worst thing about TV, this sense the Stressless chair gives of the relationship being only between you and the TV, irrespective of whether there is another human being about. If you recall the close connection between Jonas’s parents in The Seducer, presumably prior to the introduction of TV into their lives, where the evening was about talking and making love and being together, idyllic evenings which TV ends forever.

The saving grace.

I won’t say The Conqueror never tugs at the heart strings. Sometimes talking about Viktor and there is the scene where Buddha talks to him, of course. But it isn’t like The Seducer which was regularly moving.

In this book, as in The Seducer, it is scenes with Margrete that supply the emotional currency, but not all of them, by any means. However much we, the reader, love Margrete, the fact is she is mean to Jonas in ways she should not be. There comes to mind in particular his building of the ice castle and her amusement as it meets a catastrophic end.

There is also to consider her lack of sympathy for Jonas’s insecurity. Is this because she has only the truth to tell him, so better to say nothing? Or is it that she doesn’t have it in her to pander to his sense of lack of worth? There are times in life where a loved one needs your reassurance and a moral highhorse is no place to be. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe you, that they need reassurance, it means that something is difficult for them. If you love them, you will have it in your heart to give them the help they need. If you don’t, then of course, you have nothing to give. Margrete’s character is ambiguous on this point. And a feeling of sympathy for Jonas came sneaking in.

It pops into my head, a trip I came back from as a kid. The boyfriend I’d left behind wanted me to say I still loved him, but I didn’t. I loved somebody I met on the trip and, if it comes to that, I still do. Nothing the boyfriend did, trying to avoid becoming an ex, whether mean, manipulative, threatening or pathetic, ever helped him in his cause. He never heard those words from me again. Life was sad for a long time after that because loving somebody the other side of the world back then, as a kid, was impossible (or, I wasn't good enough to manage it), but hey, at least I didn’t get shot in the head and left to die on a bearskin. Things could always be worse.

Still, the climax of this book, his treatment of Axel and then Margrete, again left me unmoved when surely I should not have been. Did other readers feel like that? Maybe…maybe it is because it is not jealousy that motivates Jonas’s behavior. Maybe that is why. We all understand jealousy, but this thing that makes Jonas murderous, well, that is something else again.

Margrete. Would we not all wish for a Margrete in our lives? Like The Seducer, this book ends with the loveliest tales of Margrete.

p. 487-end

One time when he was lying there, fondling her ankle, that exquisite spot, she asked him if he knew how many bones there were in the foot, and when he shook his head she answered herself: twenty-six. ‘That says something about how complex we are,’ she said. ‘And how vulnerable.’

If there was one thing Jonas learned, or ought to have learned, from his very first second with Margrete, it was that love is not blind, but seeing. That love gives you fresh eyes.

It neve ceased to amaze Jonas how Margrete could make him forget old habits, and hence memories too, so that each time they made love it seemed to him – no matter how unlikely this may sound – like the first time, or rather, like something new. And, perhaps an even greater miracle: she taught him, a man, to set greater store by those long interludes when they explored each other’s skins than by the act itself….’Be a vessel, not a sword; learn to take, Jonas.’….

Because what they were doing as they lay there side by side, with their fingers wandering like caravans over the landscapes of their bodies, was telling stories; for hour upon hour they took it in turns, as all lovers do, to tell each other stories from their lives….

She told him, not least, about all that she had read, all the books, and when Jonas asked her why she read so much she replied: ‘Because I’m lonely, and reading helps me learn to live with my loneliness.’ One such evening…Jonas leaned back, his body heavy with contentment: ‘Do you think that one day’s happiness could save a whole life’ he asked.

‘Yes’, said Margrete. And a moment later: ‘Just as a second’s hate can destroy it.’

He didn’t understand why she meant, that she may have been trying to forestall something, make him see that any fruitful transaction can be ruined the minute one of the parties starts to feel dissatisfied and decided they would prefer to be in charge, become a conqueror, have the upper hand….

‘It takes a long time,’ Margrete said…‘It takes a long time to become a person.’….

And that night, on his way to the bathroom, naked, he passed the large mirror in the dim hallway and gave a start. He did not recognise himself. He met his reflection in the dark surface of the mirror and saw that his face had a kind of inner light. He knew what it was. An afterglow. A product of her love.

And you read this and you wonder, how could things go wrong for Jonas, how could he see life the wrong way? Because, just a few words later, this is the realisation that comes to him, this is the lesson he takes from the mirror: ‘Up to this point in my life, he thought, I’ve always been a hairsbreadth away from being a loser. Now I’m sure. I’m going to be a winner.’

Oh Jonas. How could you be so foolish. How could you have been given such as thing as Margrete and so profligately wasted it?????

Maybe The Discoverer has the answers.
Profile Image for Donna.
Author 1 book42 followers
March 21, 2015
The trick to reading this incredible trilogy is a palate cleanser between each one. They are dense as fruitcake, but not the doorstopper, disappointing kind. No, this is the special recipe takes a year to make stuff. The incidents and stories of Jonas' life skip around in all kinds of orders and repeats, but it all falls into place without difficulty. Some of the delayed understandings are delightful. Can't wait to get into #3, after a little sorbet of course.
Profile Image for Chad Post.
242 reviews243 followers
July 20, 2015
DISCLAIMER: I am the publisher of the book and thus spent approximately two years reading and editing and working on it. So take my review with a grain of salt, or the understanding that I am deeply invested in this text and know it quite well. Also, I would really appreciate it if you would purchase this book, since it would benefit Open Letter directly.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 11 books160 followers
June 11, 2012
I think the current trial of mass murderer Breivick has brought to mind all things Norwegian and I've always intended to carry on with Kjaerstad's trilogy after enjoying the first book, so I reserved at the library and it's just come in. Hope to get to it after the next but one book.

.. started in Bruges (on a weekend trip), read a big whack on Eurostar on the way back, up to p250. But will slow down now as work & stuff intervene in my reading life...

for the first time ever I wished i had a kindle for this brute. For one it weighs the same as a small child, and secondly the cover (not the one at the top of this review)features a naked woman. I do like naked women, but feel a mite self conscious reading books featuring them on the cover when i'm on the train or bus. Slowed down painfully now with this, but hoping to get a big chunk done at the w/e.

..finished. Those four stars will maybe change into 5 - excellent book, but maybe a slight problem in that it is part two, the middle book, of a trilogy, so no resolution etc. Looking forward to the third one now. Proper review is coming. I'm well behind on reviews. Real life keeps getting in the way.

..just heard that the third book is in at the library for me to pick up so I'm going to have to take this back. I'll do a proper review of the whole trilogy when I've finished 'The Discoverer'. But here are a few thoughts about this one: I agree with Not's review about the revelation of the narrator of the first book: not possible given the omnipresence. Still doesn't matter too much I suppose. I also agree with Not about a strange lack of sympathy for Jonas's ordeal on the boat where he is anally raped. Maybe because he has stood by earlier while a girl was gang-raped. Plus in this one, as many have said, the dark side of his character is exposed, with plenty of nastiness and betrayal. Here is a man obsessed with his own importance, who believes there is some special place for him in history. And there is of course – he produces the TV series on great Norwegians (these programmes are absorbingly described).

Over and over there is an obsession with how to present things, or how to represent them (what noises to make to represent rain on the radio, or the constant references to what sound(s) a dragon makes). Or how by re-presenting the same scenes from a different angle or in a different order more sense might be made of them, or how they may be seen in a different moral light. The defining images (or some of them) are of the snakes wriggling in a pit, wrapped round each other, or similarly smaller cables bunched together to make one larger cable. It all suggests that good and bad are intertwined to make a whole, that a certain moral ambiguity is unavoidable.

Having mentioned Breivick above, of course he doesn't represent the Norwegian character in any way, every society has its nutters, but Kjaerstad does have some harsh things to say about Norwegians. They are characterised as on the periphery (as they are geographically, but then it depends from where you are looking), and therefore voyeurs. They are perhaps best known for the ‘stressless’ chair, which you can lie back on and watch telly. Of course Jonas's TV series tries to correct that view, but nevertheless Norwegian society does get rather a kicking in places for its complacency and apathy.

On the whole this is a beautiful book, great on lots of things, eg first sex, love, touch (how the skin itself is the greatest organ, and how touch can open up your brain and senses). I'm looking forward to reading the final part and doing a proper review...

Profile Image for Zoe.
89 reviews
September 18, 2011
Griping, thought -provoking ,extraordinary , magical and certainly worthwhile of your time ...
Just read it people , if you can , you won't be disappointed.
352 reviews43 followers
March 19, 2017
Better than the first volume, whose necessity I question, the overarching conceptual premise, perhaps because the world has changed, or because my heroes have always been dead, so to speak, on arrival, certainly its length and quality, though it made for an initially interesting contrast. I'm hoping to see more about his relationship with his wife in the final volume, as I can well understand how that might've been precluded by the nature of the frame narrative, which comes across here somewhat gimmickily, though the mysterious woman's affective slips were touching at times.
Profile Image for Lorenzo Berardi.
Author 3 books229 followers
August 3, 2013

I had a brief but very deep romance with Oslo in the summer of 2005.
It was my first experience of life abroad all by myself and this made it unforgettable even though it lasted for less than five months.

I remember how I left the town on the first snowy day of that autumn only to come back a year later, but without the same motivations to stay. It's now six years since the last time I've been there.
And - herregud! - I miss that place quite a lot.

To me, Oslo is much more than the capital of Norway and one of the most expensive cities in the world (but with an awesome quality of life).
Oslo means memories. Which I will not recall here.

(Please be advised that I actually deleted the twenty lines of Memory Lane I had written down below. Lucky you!)

Suffice to say that I was so mesmerized by the time I spent in Oslo that I kept a sort of Norwegian diary while there covering up around 600 pages of notes, impressions, observations, fictional dialogues and a good deal of frustrated romantic impetus. Back to Italy, I tried to make a novel out of those diaries, but somehow the plot overrun me involving too many things I didn't know that much about. And drafts after drafts of chapters of a novel titled "Line Three" found room in a drawer.

Now you know the reason why I will never be a good reviewer of "The Conqueror". Because Jan Kjaerstad here wrote what I was not able to
accomplish. And rightly so. Had I spent 500 months instead of only 5 in Oslo, perhaps I could feel ashamed. Not only Kjaerstad made what I couldn't make, but he did it 10 years before my clumsy "Line Three".
And finally, he delivered a novel built on childhood episodes which equals to ensnare me under a spell. Curse you, Jan Kjaerstad!

You see? I simply cannot be impartial in looking at this book. On the one hand I'm very envious about it and on the other quite charmed by a novel who brought back a ton of Oslo-related moments.

True, "The Conqueror" is known to be the second part of the so called "Jonas Wergeland Trilogy", but given the impossibility of putting my hands over the ouverture of "The Seducer", I can say that this book could work by itself. Try it, if you don't believe me.

This is a novel revolving around Oslo and pretty much all you could call typically and quintessentially Norwegian. From politics to television, from pop culture to geography, from local habits to the way Norwegians see themselves and Norway in this wide world.
I mean, don't be surprised if you don't know a good half of the 20 great Norwegians that Jonas Wergeland chose for his programme "Thinking Big". And there are some subtleties that seem to work only in Norwegian like "fra hytte til hytte" which becomes "from hut to hut" in English, but doesn't explain the social and cultural importance of this way of saying and way of trekking in Norway.
And the reason why the novelist and Nobel Prize winner Knut Hamsun doesn't deserve to be printed on any Norwegian banknote (you will find that part in the book) is that he became a Nazi collaborator in his elderly years making him an enemy for his nation.
To name just the first two references which came to my mind.

Nevertheless, if you read the English translation don't believe the Scottish translator when she calls the district of Bygdøy "an island". Please be aware that, as stated by this reader and confirmed by the Oslo resident Mr Irwan S, Bygdøy is actually a peninsula.

A key point now. Jonas Wergeland here calls his compatriots "a nation of spectators" meaning that they're never invited at the high tables or in the control rooms of planet Earth, but quite enjoy having a look at them comfortably sprawled out on a sofa or on a stressless chair. This sort of Peeping Tom attitude means that Norwegians are also accused by the protagonist of this novel of merely witnessing dramatic events without trying either to shape or to stop them.

I would call these accusations of being lazy and craven a bit too harsh. After all Norway hosts only 5 million people and what these few Norwegians can do in a world scenario of 7 billion human beings?
Norway should be content of having had sons and daughters like Ibsen, Nansen, Amundsen, Grieg and Sigrid Undset (all of them are given a programme by Wegeland). That's not too bad, I think, but not enough for Wergeland - and I suspect for Jan Kjaerstad too.

Uh, I forgot to tell you. "The Conqueror" includes plenty of sex in pretty much all the combinations you can wonder. And, I must add, most if not all of this sex, targets Jonas Wergeland giving you the impression that Norwegian women always take the initiative. Don't jump to the same conclusion too fast! To be honest, more than a "conqueror" Jonas Wergeland in this book is "conquered", sexually and wistfully.

To make a long story short, this novel is not a masterpiece overall, hence I cannot reward it with a five stars rate. But this is the kind of book that means an awful lot to me. Now you know why I had to write this neverending review. A review which will not be very helpful to you, I'm afraid. Apologies for my biased effort!
Profile Image for Descending Angel.
668 reviews30 followers
February 10, 2017
Again, I'm disappointed. I picked to read this trilogy over reading stuff like Cormac Mccarthy's The Border Trilogy and Philip Roth's The American Trilogy, either of them can't be as bad as this. Again, the most interesting thing again this book, like the first book The Seducer, is that each chapter is basically a short story, but the problem is that they add up to nothing, when Kjerstad try's to tie it together it just seems like he's clutching at straws. But the most annoying thing about this book is that it is essentially the same book as the The Seducer, bad sex scenes (lots of them) bad metaphor's, a boring main character and little payoff. I don't know if I will continue to the 3rd and final book seeing as I have got this far, I'm dropping this for now.
17 reviews1 follower
April 22, 2011
Flat-out, this is a masterpiece of world literature.

I wonder if this might be the last great masterpiece of world literature of the 20th Century.

The translation is ALIVE. This book in English is flawless. It is masterful as a book in English.

I might or might not read the others in this trilogy (I probably will); but I *shall* read this book again.

The scale of the book is immense, and the scope of the author's mind is staggering. I feel grateful to him to have given me the privilege of reading this book.

If you are a writer's reader, and have a graceful insomnia or a fortuitous tendency toward diarrhea and keep this in the bathroom, this is a book for you.

This is an author whose work one should know--now, and for future generations.
Profile Image for Axel W.
95 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2022
Kombinationen av att läsa denna såpass nära inpå ettan och att det är en mer negativ avbildning av huvudpersonen gjorde att jag tröttnade lite på honom och delar av upplägget. Fortfarande otroligt hantverk. Sista sidorna sitter som en smäck.
Profile Image for Larissa.
Author 7 books244 followers
September 30, 2009
Expanding on the story developed in The Seducer, Kjærstad's The Conqueror dispels much of the hero/victim/creator/imitator/murderer mythology surrounding Jonas Wergeland, and complicates both the factual details and the narration enough to keep readers engaged. Perhaps by virtue of the framing story--a professor is commissioned to write Wergeland's biography, but finds himself unable to do so without the unexpected aid of a mysterious woman who knows innumerable intimate details about Wergeland's life--this installment seems a little more accessible. Nesting stories, self-reflective narrators, and a hazy boundry between fact and fiction defines this expansive story, recalling both (forgive me) the 'pre-postmodernism' of Don Quixote and, of course, Kjærstad's beloved Arabian Nights. As this volume deals more with the darker aspects of Wergeland's life, he also feels like a more fully realized, tangible character than beforehand.

I'll be more articulate about this once I've finished the trilogy, but for now, I'll simply note that if you're going to read one of the Wergeland books, my money's on this volume. (I'll get back to you after I finish The Discoverer, though...)

(Update, 9/30/09: Review of the whole Wergeland Trilogy here: http://www.thelmagazine.com/newyork/t...)
87 reviews1 follower
October 28, 2011
Jan Kjærstad er næsten et fortidsminde, en duft fra ungdommen, og jeg kan på ingen måde gengive, hvad hans trilogi handler om eller i hvilken rækkefølge.

Hvad jeg til gengæld kan, er ihukomme den grådige følelse af at inhalere alle tre bøger i en kæderygende tåge af vellyst. De var fremragende skrevet, og jeg ringer nok snart på Jonas Wergelands dør igen.
146 reviews1 follower
July 11, 2019
Wie denkt dat Kjærstads vorige roman 'De verleider' alles heeft onthuld over het genie Wergeland, heeft het mis. Na Jonas Wergelands ontluisterende val krijgt een hoogleraar de opdracht de definitieve biografie et schrijven van deze levenskunstenaar. Hij wordt daarbij geholpen door een mysterieuze bezoekster, die nog niet vrijgegeven verhalen over het fenomeen Wergeland kent. Haar relaas werpt een heel ander licht op de man die door zijn opmerkelijke tv-programma's een hele natie haar zelfvertrouwen teruggaf.
Nadat in 'De verleider'* het beeld werd geschetst van de geniale Noorse tv-persoonlijkheid Jonas Wergeland, komt in deze roman een totaal andere hoofdpersoon naar voren. Tegen de achtergrond van Wergelands oponthoud in de gevangenis wegens de moord op zijn vrouw Margrete, is een professor bezig de 'definitieve' Wergeland-biografie te schrijven. Een mysterieuze bezoekster voorziet hem van onbekend materiaal over Wergelands kleurrijk bestaan, in haar poging om zijn leven van de zinloosheid te redden. Toch ontstaat er een ontluisterende schaduwversie van deze levenskunstenaar: als een middelmatige doorsnee-Noor. Terwijl het in 'De verleider' ging over de wijze waarop de onderdelen van een leven met elkaar samenhangen, heeft de Noorse auteur (1953) hier op kunstzinnige wijze drie vragen met elkaar vervlochten: 'Hoe wordt men tot veroveraar', 'Hoe wordt men tot moordenaar' en 'Is het toegestaan een leven te veranderen door het te vertellen'? De schrijver van deze geniale roman vraagt het uiterste van de lezer, temeer omdat deze het verontrustende antwoord op de drie hoofdvragen zelf dient te vinden. Kleine druk.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
37 reviews
March 27, 2022
This book has two main characters, Jonas the famous TV producer and the country of Norway. It is disguised as a murder mystery; Did he kill his wife, but it’s more of an encyclopedia. Everything great; inventions, scientists etc that has ever come out of this country, is mentioned. A truly nationalistic piece of work, like everything Norwegian.
This is part two of a trilogy. At first I was taken aback by the story, but after some 525 pages with every little detail in Jonas’s life, I have had enough. I know that you can analyze the text to try to make sense of his life and find a deeper meaning, but there are just too many episodes, too big a puzzle. You may add that I’m not very smart or even lazy. That’s probably true too, anyway I have to confess that I lost interest. This even though Jonas has sex with a different woman (and once a man) every 25 pages or so.
8 reviews
January 11, 2021
Be warned: there are two extremely graphic r*pe scenes. You see them coming and you can skip the rest of the chapter; they don't add that much to the plot other than that they happen.
The story was beautifully written, but I didn't really get much out of it besides that. Why should I care about this guy? I guess it helped me understand how men are raised. 
The translation was horrible. There were plenty of grammar errors and spelling inconsistencies. I can't believe this translation was published by a university.
I will probably not be reading the rest of the books in this series, but I'm glad I got to read some of this author's writing and it killed a lot of time.
482 reviews5 followers
February 11, 2020
Ok. So if you have sex with this man, you become the leading light in your field. Enough with that. Otherwise, such a carefully woven tale.
Profile Image for Allison.
625 reviews58 followers
April 3, 2009
Admittedly, it has been a significant amount of time since I have read a “serious” novel: a novel that takes me more than a week to read; a novel I would consider structurally and thematically challenging (but worth the challenge!); and a novel that has been translated from Swedish, at that.

I think I would deem this book “good” in the thought-provoking, challenging, academic sense whether or not it was translated from another language. The structure is unique—a narrator telling a story being narrated by another storyteller. It creates an interesting “voice” paradox, because the overarching voice was always that of the primary narrator, but in the majority of the chapters that told of the life of Jonas Wergeland, the voice had to “coat” and mimic a second narrator’s voice—that of the character recounting the story to the writer. So the chain was thus: the mysterious woman told the story to the professor, who retold it for the readers of the book he was writing, which happens to be the same book the real-world readers are reading, which is consequently written by the real author (Jan Kjaerstad) and “retold” (i.e. translated) by the translator Barbara Haveland. Complicated, no? And yet tremendously fascinating!

Not only was the narrative structure of the novel complexly layered, but the plot of the novel was also arranged in an intricate pattern. The ending was apparent from the beginning—Jonas had killed his wife Margaret, and a professor (the narrator) had been commissioned to tell the tale—but what remained unapparent as the tale unraveled was why it was being told as a mock-defense of this cold-blooded murder. “Is it possible to change a life by recounting it?” asks the first line of the last fifteen or so chapters. That seems to be the mission of the whole novel—to change the reader’s perspective on Jonas Wergeland’s life as he or she reads about it, creating one impression and then altering it slightly with a single anecdote about some other, seemingly unrelated but somehow pivotal event that occurred to him as he matured from a young boy into a middle-aged man.

One of Kjaerstad’s major strengths—or a strength of this novel, at the very least—is the ability to find meaning and importance in the smallest and most mundane details and events. Kjaerstad transforms a simple hockey puck, a silver broach, and a pearl into poignant thematic symbols that recur throughout the novel and have meaning not only to the reader, but to Jonas himself. Another noteworthy skill is Kjaerstad’s ability to take Jonas’ actions and observations and to internalize them in ways that take on both immediate and long-range meaning so that they apply both to the scene at hand as well as the overarching structure of the novel. Near-car-crashes, snake sightings, sexual intercourse—all of these affect the immediate story being told within the chapter as well as the overarching tale being constructed by the novel.

These are all signs of an extraordinary novelist. However, The Conqueror would be nowhere near as elegant and refined a novel without its masterly translator, Haveland. The language is exquisite, and whether this is due to Kjaerstad Swedish word choice or Haveland’s interpretation, the result is a beautifully crafted, complex novel that will certainly carve itself a place in the world of literature.

Profile Image for Chandhrika.
36 reviews4 followers
October 16, 2015
This is such a pretentious and ambitious book, a book so bad that it is now clear to me why the copy in the Main Library is so brand new. Lesson: Never pick up a brand new book from 1996.

This book is a treatise on the greatness of Norway, written by a Norwegian for fellow Norwegians and I honestly applaud the amount of research that has so obviously gone into this book. That said, I fail to understand why it was translated to English because I, for one, found it extremely difficult to connect with the history, geography and culture of Norway. If this was intended to be accessible to ignoramuses like me, and if it was intended to serve as an introduction to Norway, the author has failed!

I am compelled to believe that this is one of those books which throws critics and reviewers in a "Catch-22". Damned if you don't like it because you just might be ignorant and damned if you do, because this is such terrible writing.

The prose switches between past tense and present tense, often within the same paragraph, which is very jarring. There are quite a few typos, with Gandhi's name conspicuously misspelled as Ghandi. Maybe it was a translation error.

The premise of the novel is "[novel] that explores what, in the apparent absence of simple cause and effect, makes life coherent". Unfortunately, it does no such thing even though the author has tried so hard. For me, the biggest failure is that for a novel of such proportions, there is simply no attempt made to develop any characters other than Jonas Wergeland. If we are talking cause and effect, how is it even possible. The title character comes off as a highly selfish person and the entire narrative does nothing to dispel that feeling.

All in all, this was a waste of my time so I guess I know I will not be reading books 1 and 3 in the trilogy. Oh yes, discovered three-fourths of the way into the book that this is book 2 of a trilogy. Lesson: Never pick up a book without a complete background check!

Edit: New York Times book review of the third book in the trilogy The Discoverer: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/...
Profile Image for Shane Zimmer.
9 reviews20 followers
April 19, 2014
The narration was clever and charming but the plot was overly told, leaving me little space to enter the story and consider for myself Jonas and his many episodes. I felt I was being talked at instead of talked with. The main conceit of the plot – the mysterious stranger telling the narrator about Jonas – felt too artificial, further distancing me from the characters. The episodes were numerous with not enough inherent momentum. And finally, I could find no reason to care about Jonas or his wife or the narrator or anyone. The only aspect I enjoyed was the prose; it propelled me along with its well-balanced rhythm.
6 reviews
November 3, 2008
The Conqueror is part of the same triology as The Seducer. I read it in Danish a while back. It's wonderful and I think the translation is good as well. Kjaerstad is funny and deep just like Peter Fogtdal, the Danish writer who wrote The Tsar's Dwarf.
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