22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Kjell Askildsen

Portrait Kjell Askildsen
© Hartwig Klappert

Kjell Askildsen was born in 1929 in Mandal, forty-five kilometres west of Kristiansand in southern Norway. At the age of twenty-four, he published his first collection of short stories »Heretter følger jeg deg helt hjem« (1953; t: From now on I’ll walk you all the way home), which was seen as quite controversial at the time because of its taboo content. The Oslo media were impressed, but libraries refused to include the book in their collections. Askildsen’s father, a church man and regional politician, publicly burned the book. Nevertheless, Askildsen was not shaken from his desire to become a writer.

After his short story début, he then only wrote novels. In these texts, he usually wrote from the perspective of a first-person narrator with an existentialist bent, recounting his every day life through laconic monologue – very much in the tradition of Albert Camus’ »The Stranger« or Jean-Paul Sartre’s »Nausea«. His sparse writing style, almost choppy sentences, and tendency to imply rather than explain things overtly have become trademarks of the author,  a technique he perfected over the course of six novels.

From 1982 onwards he turned his back on novel writing; all the books he has published since have been short story collections. It was at this point that Askildsen made his breakthrough as an author. Today he is counted as one of Norway’s most successful modern authors and is considered Scandinavia’s master of the short story. As early as 1983, his collection »F’s siste nedtegnelser til almenheten« (t: Thomas F’s last notes to the public) was awarded the Norwegian Critic’s Prize for Literature. In 2006, a jury from the newspaper Dagbladet called the book the best Norwegian work of prose for twenty-five years. His later collections have also been highly acclaimed and honoured with prizes. He recently published »Alt som for« (2005; t: Everything as Before), which contains short stories from the years 1966 to 1999. Almost without exception, the protagonists of these stories are misanthropes who find expression in dismal dialogues and exist in a cold atmosphere. In terms of plot, the stories are always about the existential – things begin harmlessly enough, but then open up into unforeseen chasms. Despite this, Askildsen’s minimalist sentences and clear language never leave the reader in confusion – there is too much irony shining through the multi-layered compositions for that. On this point, »The Times Literary Supplement« draws a connection between Askildsen and another literary great, »Askildsen’s dry, absurd humour is not unlike that of Beckett … His short stories are packed with irony, and the dialogue is sharp and expressive.«

The author has been awarded the Norwegian Critic’s Prize twice, the Brage Honorary Prize, and the 2009 Swedish Academy’s Nordic Prize as well as other honours. Askildsen lives and works in Norway.

© international literature festival berlin