Saturday 14 June 2014

#CBR6 Book 53: "Teori og praksis" (Theory and Practice) by Nikolaj Frobenius

Page count: 295 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Nikolaj moves to a newly constructed house in a suburb in one of the counties surrounding Oslo in the early 1970s. His father is one of the architects who planned the area, and is full of dreams about the social opportunities the new affordable housing will mean for families in the area. As it turns out, most of the families who move in stick to a rigid routine of conformity and normality - their children wear the same thing, cut their hair the same way, they mow their lawns on the same day and wash their cars once a week. As the only boy in the neighbourhood with shoulder-length hair, a father who's a hippie and a mother who's Danish, Nikolaj finds it difficult to fit in. All his attempts at youthful rebellion are thwarted because his parents are fully supportive of youthful protest, defiance and voicing one's own opinion. They cheer him on rather than disapprove.

When Nikolaj's mother is killed by a hit and run driver, his life irrevocably changes. Magnus, his formerly jovial and cheerful father withdraws completely into grief and depression, forcing Nikolaj to take on the role as caretaker. His aunt and uncle take his younger brother away, leaving Nikolaj alone with the grieving widower. He barely ever goes to school and desperately seeks a way out. He finds some outlet of his own grief and frustration in punk, forming a punk band with some of his friends and starts experimenting with drugs. Initially, Magnus seems baffled by his son's love of the Sex Pistols and other punk idols, but eventually ends up almost co-opting this attempt at teenage rebellion too, even stepping in to help out on drums at one of the band's concerts. Things are bound to come to a head, and they do.

The blurb for this novel describes it as a "lying autobiography". The protagonist shares the author's name, and grew up in the same place as him in the 70s, but his father was not an architect and most of the events, while somewhat loosely based on the author's adolescence are heavily fictionalised. The book was also turned into a successful movie here in Norway in 2011 (with a cameo appearance by Johnny Rotten), the screenplay adapted by the author himself. I wrote about the adaptation from novel to movie in exam term paper, comparing and contrasting the two.

Out of the two, I absolutely preferred the movie, possibly because the film compresses most of the action to a year of Nikolaj's life, and skips most of his early childhood, where not that much actually happens, except small things that add up to set the scene for his later rift with his father. The book is also a lot more focused on how the "theory" of the social-democratic ideals of the 1970s failed spectacularly in the area where Frobenius grew up, the "practice" being that the almost forced expectation of conformity and sameness, without any proper outlets for leisure activities, except the local mall, resulting in a huge amount of disenfranchised youths turning to drugs and alcohol when trying to rebel against their middle class parents. The movie is more a portrayal of the father-son relationship with its ups and downs before and after the mother's death.

As of yet, I haven't received the resulting grade for my exam paper, so I don't know yet whether I did a good or a disappointing job on my analysis. I doubt I would have chosen to read the book if it wasn't part of my coursework, even though it's set about 20 minutes away from where I grew up in the mid-80s to 90s. Where I grew up, Rykkin (the area Frobenius grew up) had a bad reputation, and it was well known that you didn't want to go to that mall after dark, as that was where all the druggies were. Can't say that the book dispelled my youthful preconceptions.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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