Jan Roar Leikvoll awarded the Stig Sæterbakken Memorial Prize for 2013

4 September 2013

Jan Roar Leikvoll, Photo: Mimsy Møller
Jan Roar Leikvoll (1974 – 2014) Photo: Mimsy Møller

The prize jury had the following words to say about this year’s winner:

Jan Roar Leikvoll has an uncompromising choice of themes, an insistent and soulfully poetic use of language and, not least, has chosen to write three books that are so consistent in their structure, language and content. His authorship so far represents one of the most accomplished and unique projects in contemporary Norwegian literature.

‘His work consists of the three novels A Winter Story (Eit vintereventyr, 2008), The Violins (Fiolinane, 2010) and Bovara (2012). These books can be said to form a trilogy, all following a vulnerable first-person narrator’s quest, survival instinct and misdeeds in environments that put humanity to the test, or that even set humanity aside. His novels reach out to the extreme boundaries of readers’ imagination, and they all cover themes that are disgusting and captivating, both in a fascinating way. His books explore the inconceivable but genuine evil that humans are able to perform. But even with physical decay, razed surroundings and total isolation, hope still shines out. Leikvoll manages to portray this with dependable credibility. Readers are cornered with the question of whether we feel the protagonists deserve to have hope. The trilogy emerges, therefore, as an essentially humanistic project.

‘The three fables are set in closed worlds where the plots develop limitlessly in all their horror. A Winter Story takes place in an undefined, enclosed camp from which neither the guards nor those they are guarding can escape. The Violins is set in a post-apocalyptic rubbish tip where it really is possible just to leave and to “become one of those who disappeared”. But, in a scorching hot desert where disaster is universal, that means running away from a utopia. Bovara is set in a monastery where the monks abuse unwilling newcomers, a bestial and sinful Garden of Eden in which the protagonist Frrok eventually leaves the monastery garden dressed in a murdered girl’s hair, dress and green shoes, like a monstrous symbiosis of Adam and Eve.

‘Leikvoll tests the limits of readers’ empathy, aversion and spontaneous moral reactions when the victims themselves begin to carry out the very acts to which have been subjected as victims. [… T]he three novels are narrated with a beautifully poetic and lyrical language, making the repellent subject matter into something aesthetically alluring. It is a balancing act with many potential pitfalls, such as a banal use of clichés or exploitative glamorisation of people’s wicked thoughts or deeds. A fable, liberated from concrete times or places, is capable of carrying out this balancing act successfully, referring to societies, settings or private spheres without turning into a cheap or reductive allegory. But succeeding in this takes rare talent and work honing the text, both of which shine through in these novels.

‘Jan Roar Leikvoll has an uncompromising choice of themes, an insistent and soulfully poetic use of language and, not least, has chosen to write three books that are so consistent in their structure, language and content. His authorship so far represents one of the most accomplished and unique projects in contemporary Norwegian literature. We look forward to this year’s coming publication The Songbird (Songfuglen), and to the rest of Jan Roar Leikvoll’s future work, with great anticipation.’

About the prize winner:

Jan Roar Leikvoll (1974 – 2014) made his debut with the novel A Winter Story (Eit vintereventyr) in 2008. With The Violins (Fiolinane, 2010) and Bovara (2012), he confirmed that he is one of the strongest and most original voices in contemporary Norwegian literature. Leikvoll’s books are characterised by a brutal and raw yet, at the same time, beautiful and sensitive language, portraying the extremes of human experience with merciless realism. Leikvoll is an original storyteller who dares to follow paths that are entirely his own, for which he has won the universal praise of critics and readers. In the autumn of 2010, Leikvoll was awarded the Sigmund Skard Scholarship for the start of an original and important career in writing. Among other points in their citation, the jury stated that ‘Leikvoll has fused together pain and beauty in a credible and effective way, and we cannot help being affected by the questions his books pose. The jury looks forward to Jan Roar Leikvoll’s continued creation of exciting and original new literary universes.’