“I think the themes in my novels deal with love.” | Writer Hanne Ørstavik | Louisiana Channel

“In a novel, there’s room to say a lot of things at once. Though words appear one by one, the text opens up as image after image, like layers of what life consists of. That’s what life is, and through creating a work, it’s possible to share that. It’s such an enormous gift”, says Norwegian writer Hanne Ørstavik.

“I think I have a very, very strong desire for truth, if I won’t be in touch with something that feels true, then I’m all alone, it’s the endless fall. It’s yet again about a relation. If I can’t have it with another, at least I can have it with what feels true in me. I then have a relation with the essence of myself, it is the deepest thing that exists.”

Growing up in Tana in Eastern Finmark, Hanne Ørstavik felt she lived “at the end of the world” and to live at the outer edge was an existential feeling, she always carried in her. “The movement from outermost northern Norway and down through Europe started already when I was 16, when we moved from Finnmark to Oslo”, she says. “Places call out to me or something exists there that can only be opened as text in that place.”

“How do I reach you – with what, and am I welcome? Am I worth loving? In many of my books,
art as a comprehendible form or as a way of being is a part of the layers that my characters exist in. I think I wrote them because they all originate in a point I had to explore because it was so difficult in my own life,” Hanne Ørstavik explains.

“I must turn it into literature because I understand something else and exist in it in a different way when I write it. Something in me needs to be in contact with this deep layer of meaning that is basically outside of meaning. I grew up with a mother who didn’t know what it meant to be a mother or have relations with other people who’d somehow grown up all alone, and then she joined Dad. How to be a girl with a mother who didn’t have any qualities because she was so cold and I longed for warmth? And still, to love someone who does the worst things that you witness. How to contain all this which is so complex?,” Ørstavik asks.

“My mother early on made a choice and said: “Hanne, I’d love to have all your books on my shelves, but I won’t read them.” The fact that I’ve written these books and worked so hard on the problems of our family dynamics means that we’re now together in a much more open way.”

Hanne Ørstavik (born 28 November 1969) is a Norwegian writer. She grew up in Tana in Finnmark in the far north of Norway, and moved to Oslo at the age of 16. With the publication of the novel Hakk (Cut) in 1994, Ørstavik embarked on her writing career. Her literary breakthrough came three years later in 2018 with the publication of Kjærlighet (Love) which was shortlisted for the National Book Award for translated fiction and won the PEN Translation Prize in 2019. Since then Ørstavik has written several novels and received a number of literary prizes, and her work has been translated into fifteen languages. Through her work, the reader repeatedly finds descriptions of a desire for intimacy – a desire that is always accompanied by a frustrated experience of distance and detachment.

Christian Lund interviewed Hannne Ørstavik in December 2021 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark.

Camera: Jarl Therkeldsen Kaldan
Edit: Signe Boe Pedersen
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022

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