The BookGroup List chose this one to discuss for the last half of December. It looked interesting so I got it. I’d never heard of Solstead but I familiar with Ibsen. It’s a very short book. I suppose “intense” is the word for it. Dag Solstad has won the Norwegian National Critics Award three times – the only author to do so.
Shyness and Dignity
by Dag Solstad
2006 – 176 pages
translated by Sverre Lyngstad (Norwegian)
It’s a wonderful book, but rather difficult, imo, so it’s a Good thing it’s short. I read somewhere that Solstead wrote it in honor of Ibsen’s 100th anniversary of something.
Anyway, after I got to about page 15 I decided I needed to brush up on Ibsen and “The Wild Duck” before reading the rest. Understanding The Wild Duck is not vital, but it certainly adds a whole dimension of meaning to the ending of Shyness and Dignity. I read The Wild Duck in high school so I certainly needed the review. I re-read A Doll’s House a couple years ago.
Shyness and Dignity is mainly about Elias Rukla, a middle-aged high school teacher who is experiencing a serious crisis of identity. He has been teaching Ibsen’s The Wild Duck to high school kids for many years although they really do not care or understand. And he lives companionably with his wife in an apartment in Oslo. The daughter is grown and gone. He is basically disconnected from just about everything. One day he throws a tantrum.
After that he wanders around town for awhile and reviews his life so we get the rundown on how it came to be this way. The ending of the book is a kind of shocker (to me anyway) and it touches on The Wild Duck in its own way.
If you can get past the first part – where he’s teaching – it picks up considerably. If you have time to read The Wild Duck please do it, but if not oh well – you will miss a point of the ending I think. I really don’t want to give any spoilers for The Wild Duck.
The narrative is beautifully written and translated, the characters are interesting in their own way but I think Elias is supposed to represent “everyman” so he can’t be too distinguishable. There really isn’t much of a plot per se but the story is interesting in itself. I wondered about Eva, Elias’ wife, and there’s really no point of entry for her or what she feels and thinks. (Unlike A Doll’s House, far more like The Wild Duck.)
I didn’t understand the title of Shyness and Dignity until toward the end of it, but the meaning is definitely there.