Jan Kjærstad Interview: Books as Sharp as Knives

In this extensive video, the commended Norwegian author Jan Kjærstad talks about how important it is to always push yourself when writing and about the important role a writer plays: “A story can become one part of society that is absolutely necessary.”

When a novel is taking shape, Kjærstad argues, there are still changing feelings within you, alternating between doubt and belief: “The doubts are there for you to try to exceed your own talent or your own handicap. It’s dangerous if you lose the doubt.” Opposite some writers, Kjærstad reads as much as he can during the writing process, feeling that good literature encourages him to write better: “I totally depend on reading.” Kjærstad also shares how his grandfather had a knife sharpener, and how he used to tell him that he should have a friend, who could sharpen him like a knife sharpener – an idea which Kjærstad has transferred to books.

Kjærstad likes to mix different elements and genres, arguing that the novel is, and always has been, “a mongrel.”: “And I think that’s why I write novels. It gives me the opportunity to use all the other forms.” Commenting on the author’s role in the public debate, he feels that there is a mistaken expectation that authors are able to see farther or sharper than others. What an author can do, however, is to reveal something hidden, and their most important role is to write fictional stories that deal with that which can’t be formulated with words: “The language-less that everyone needs you can find in stories.”

Jan Kjærstad (b. 1953) is a Norwegian author. Kjærstad is the recipient of numerous prizes including the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature (1985) and Doblougprisen (2000), and in 2001 he won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for his novel trilogy about the TV personality Jonas Wergeland – ‘The Seducer’ (Forføreren, 1993), ‘The Conqueror’ (Erobreren, 1996) and ‘The Discoverer’ (Oppdageren, 1999). He is also the author of several novels and short story collections such as ‘The Earth Turns Quietly’ (Kloden dreier stille rundt, 1980), ‘The King of Europe’ (Kongen av Europa, 2005) and ‘Berge’ (2017).

Jan Kjærstad was interviewed by Klaus Rothstein in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in August 2018.

Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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