This is my review of Bikubesong
(Song of the Beehive) by Frode Grytten.
Bikubesong is a collection of short stories that are all focused around a collection of apartment blocks in a small town in western Norway, quite close to Bergen. It’s set mainly in the late 90s, but it also has references to other times. All the stories are about a person living in one of the buildings, and the worlds they create for themselves. They also have this thing where a person will be mentioned in one story and then the next story is based around them. All the stories are very different and these people clearly live very different lives. They all have very distinct voices and even though most are told the same way they feel very different. In some the names of the characters are very important, and in others the characters are just referred to by a title, like “the Party secretary” or something similar.
It feels very Norwegian, in a way I’m not sure how to explain. I think it’s because it’s mainly about a working class society, everyone in the apartment blocks are sort of low-level employees wherever they work, and they’re working class and sort of on the periphery of society. They don’t seem to fit in and people seem to think they have the right to comment on their lives, which is fascinating. It’s a very Norwegian kind of book. It’s hard to explain, I feel like it just has to be experienced.
I liked it very much. I really enjoy these types of books, and I don’t know why I don’t read them more often. I liked how different all the stories were and how different all the people were. Some were just struggling through their little lives and dealing with their mother dying, or losing a job, or whatever. Some people were just delusional, and I really enjoyed those stories. One is about a man who wasn’t accepted into the police force because he’s two centimeters too short. And he works as a security guard instead. He owns a police uniform though, and he pretends to be a cop, and he definitely thinks that he would be a better cop than anyone on the force, because he’s an obsessive psychopath. He carries a gun, which is not common in Norway, Norwegian cops don’t normally carry guns, at least they didn’t in 1999 when this book was written. He is so self-assured, and he is so cocky, and he’s better than anyone, and he’s delusional. And he keeps doing the Taxi Driver speech in his mirror, which is a sign of a balanced mind. The next is the story of a man in his 40s in a solid, but maybe boring marriage, and he sees this new girl working at the local grocery store. He imagines he’s in love with her, but it’s more of an obsessive lust. He keeps staring at her and imagines she’s just ignoring him, when really the 19-year-old girl is creeped out by a grown man incessantly ogling her and is trying to be professional. It sort of tells the story of how this crush very quickly spins out of control. Like it’s very innocent in that he always goes to her register, then he escalates it more and more. And he seems to think she owes him her attention, and how dare she not look at him and how dare she not smile to him, or whatever? He never vocalizes it and she definitely gets her revenge, but he still is basically like; “she looked at me, finally.” It was creepy as hell.
I liked the structure, of basically setting a book in an apartment and just telling the stories of the people there, because you have such a rich array of characters with such different lives. The book is very character driven, because there’s no over-arching plot. So the stories are very focused on the characters, what they’re thinking and doing and how they’ve screwed up their lives in different ways. It’s also interesting to see how living in a small, hidden away, place affects people. There were 7000 inhabitants in 2014 and there were probably only 500-1000 more in 1999, so it’s not a big place, and they seem to be sort of hidden away and cut off from the world. It looks at how it is to not fit in when you live in a small place. It’s probably easier to be weird and different when you live in a big city where you can find people like you. It’s hard to love the Smiths and dress like Morrissey every day when you’re the only one and everyone thinks you’re a weirdo.
So to sum up it’s a great look at people and characters and how living in a tiny place with few connections to the outside world sort of changes you and affects you. It looks at people who might be a bit different and strange and on the outside of society and I really liked it.