“Subterfuge is very liberating. It helps you be as truthful as you can.” Award-winning Norwegian writer Linn Ullmann discusses memory and autobiography on the occasion of her latest novel, which treats the relationship between herself and her famous parents, Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann.
The ninth child of legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and only child of actress Liv Ullmann, author Linn Ullmann grew up surrounded by artists between New York, USA, Oslo, Norway and her father’s house in Fårö, Sweden. At the age of 87, her father had the idea to write a book together with his daughter. Young Linn would ask the questions and he would answer. The book never materialised, but the transcripts of six tender conversations between father and daughter form the backbone of Ullmann’s novel and the point from which the plot unfolds. Dramatically composed through multiple viewpoints, the novel changes between narrators and temporalities. Like an event experienced differently by each person present, it is an exploration of perspectives that starts with the telling line “it all depends on where you stand.”
The least interesting thing to Ullmann in writing ‘The Restless’, she explains in this interview, was her parents’ fame. She was interested in three artists, three human beings. The personal character of the subject matter, the fact that her parents were known and loved by many people, did however become an obstacle for Ullmann while working on the book. It was “like playing at the shoreline and fearing people’s reactions,” she describes. In the end the only way to proceed was to let go of the considerations of truth: “I tap into my own experiences, but in order to do that I had to recreate us as if we didn’t exist other than in that novel. I recreated us as fictional characters,” says the author and muses over the nature of autobiography: “What does it mean to write autobiographically? How trustworthy is our memory? It is both rich and creative, but also totally untrustworthy.” In the end, she believes, all of her work treats the same questions and themes: “I think a recurring theme is that my characters are imperfect. They are vulnerable and restless. But they keep fighting. That blend of being eager to fight and vulnerable is what I write about.”
Linn Ullmann (b. 1966) is a Norwegian author, journalist and literary critic. She published her first novel ’Before You Sleep’ in 1998 and has since published 5 critically acclaimed international bestsellers. She has received several prizes for her work, among others the Gold Pen and the Norwegian Reader’s Prize. Her latest novel, ’De Urolige’, published in 2016, has been nominated for the Critic’s Award and the Nordic Council’s Literary Award.
Linn Ullmann was interviewed by Annette Dina Sørensen in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in 2016.
Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
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