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The book to read next month is Henrik Nor-Hansen’s Termin: An Inquiry into Violence in Norway, published by Nordisk Books, our selected Translated Book of the Month in May.


“… linguistic peculiarities play a key role in this book, because they are precisely what hints at the latent violence in the story” – the translator Matt Bagguley


While waiting for Termin to be launched on 12th May at WhitLit and come out on 23rd May, we have interviewed the book’s translator to learn more about the book and the translation process. How are important contemporary issues in Scandinavian life and the cold, neutral tone in which they are narrated and explored by Nor-Hansen mediated to English-speaking readers? Matt Bagguley tells us more about the peculiarities of the text’s style and language and the work of a literary translator, balancing the book’s intended effect and readability in English.


 The translator Matt Bagguley



From a translator’s point of view, what are the linguistic and cultural peculiarities of this novel?

“The book spans two decades of Kjetil Tuestad’s unravelling life, from the late 90s to 2015, and is set largely in and around Stavanger on Norway’s South-West coast. Readers will find most of the geographic reference points quite unfamiliar, and it snows a lot of course, but beyond that the story doesn’t rely too much on the typical Nordic cultural reference points. Having said that, it is still a fair depiction of the pretensions of Scandinavian life, with comfortable-small-town Norway as its backdrop. There is sex and violence, and moments of tenderness, but it is all viewed from the perspective of an indifferent storyteller and a protagonist quite detached from his increasingly hopeless situation. As a translator, there were plenty of issues over things like finding the correct English psychology terms, but most significantly, the book presented a challenge linguistically because it builds on some fairly common Norwegian traits – like their directness, and tendency for short, abrupt sentences – and pushes them to the limit by adopting the even colder, impartial tone of a police or psychologist’s report. This style is unrelenting throughout, and made it difficult at first to understand how much of it was intentional, although I soon found that it was. So linguistic peculiarities play a key role in this book, because they are precisely what hints at the latent violence in the story.”


Did they create translation problems? If so, what strategies/solutions did you apply? 

“One problem I had was how to approach the use of possessive pronouns… Norwegians already say “his” or “hers” less frequently than we do in English – a Norwegian would more typically say “the arm” instead of “my arm” – and in this case the intention was to avoid anything unnecessarily personal at all. So you will also find sentences like, “it is believed that the hospitalisation may have been a burden mentally” which is free of any direct reference to the protagonist or the narrator. I had to ask around to find out if the tone really sounded as brusque in Norwegian (to a Norwegian reader), as it does, in English, to an English one (which it does). But as well as capturing the original tone it also had to be readable in English, so it was still a difficult balance.

Another problem was the widespread use of “skulle ha” which, in the original book, preceded many of the narrator’s statements. In Norwegian “skulle” neatly suggests a reservation, just as “…apparently…” or “…supposedly…” does in English. But I was reluctant to exchange a typically discreet Norwegian word like “skulle” with “supposedly” when it crops up so routinely. I was conscious of the rhythm in the text, and I couldn’t replicate the same degree of repetition, in English, without it shouting – so this led to a quite meticulous process where I instead used alternating ‘reservations’ (apparently, supposedly, it is thought that…) to maintain that element, without it being a distraction.”


What can you say about the book’s title? What does it mean and how was it chosen?

“The author would have more to say about how it was chosen, but the word “Termin” comes from the Latin terminus, which in Roman times meant border. The title has been interpreted as representing the thin line separating the complacency in our lives – and the estrangement and alienation lying a hairs-breadth from us all, which I think fits nicely with the subject matter. The sub heading “An inquiry into violence in Norway” is straight away intriguing since Norway is often seen as a safe, model country, with a strong sense of togetherness, so obviously the question is where on earth this violence could be. The intention of the book is to comment on that, but not in a manner you would expect.”


“ It’s quite a unique and uncompromising novel…”– Matt Bagguley


What is your favourite passage from the book and why?

“It’s hard to say there’s one particular “favourite” passage because it is essentially quite a bleak story. There’s no lack of shocking incidents throughout, but the parts that stand out for me are the situation where Kjetil is living with his grandmother, and his total ambivalence to her dying while he is in the house:

“One would expect a natural display of grief. Instead Kjetil apparently put his shoes on. The weather was nice and there were lots of people in Stavanger city centre.”

Then there is the tragicomic depiction of the fight at the Christmas party, where Kjetil’s main concern seems to be for his shoes:

“They had supposedly pushed each other around on the gravel outside the venue. Kjetil lost some shirt buttons and his new moccasins got trodden on. He had then gone into the toilet. He needed to put toilet paper in his nostrils.” 

And the random attack on an old alcoholic, during which Kjetil pops out to buy an ice-cream, and then returns to help tuck the man into bed. There’s something unnerving about all this; how incomprehensibly the main character engages and reacts with his surroundings.”


Who would you recommend this book to?

“Somebody looking for something very different. It’s quite a unique and uncompromising novel, providing the same disquieting feeling you might get from a David Lynch film, or an episode of Black Mirror.”


How can the author/book be positioned within Scandinavian/Nordic literature?

“The book contrasts many of the anxieties and trivialities of contemporary Norwegian society, which I think fans of Knausgaard or Dag Solstad would enjoy.”


Image credit: Nordisk Books



Pre-order your copy of Termin here and meet Nordisk Books and author Henrik Nor-Hansen on Sunday 12th May in Whitstable. Details of the event are also on Facebook.


We kindly thank the translator Matt Bagguley and Nordisk Books for their contribution to this blog. 


About the translator Matt Bagguley:

Born in Coventry and now settled in Oslo since 2001, Matt has translated several books within fiction and non-fiction (from Norwegian to English) – including Katharina Vestre’s The Making Of You (Profile Books); Lars Svendson’s Understanding Animals (Reaktion Books); and Henrik Nor-Hansen’s Termin (Nordisk Books). He also does translation work for the film industry, most recently for the director Joachim Trier. Matt is currently translating the Norwegian-bestseller Keep Saying Their Names by Simon Stranger, for Knopf Doubleday Publishing in the US.


Nordisk Books is an independent publishing house in Whitstable, founded in 2016 with a focus on modern and contemporary Scandinavian literature.

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