Shortlisted for the Critics’ Prize 2016
Shortlisted for the P2 Listeners’ Novel Prize
Shortlisted for the Sørlandet Literature Prize
Moscow, 1860. Oslo, 1979. Sinaloa, Mexico, 2013.
In 1860 Julia Pastrana, «the Mexican bear woman», has arrived in Moscow. She is about to give birth, but can still be seen every day at the circus. Public curiosity grows by the day: Will the child be covered in fur, like its mother?
In the late 1970s a shady character living on an Oslo garbage dump discovers a stuffed woman’s body. He brings her home to have somebody to talk to.
In 2013, the journalist Kira travels to Sinaloa to attend the handover of Julia’s remains to the Mexican state. Kira, expectant as a consequence of rape, carries a spawn of darkness.
Expectant is a dizzyingly inventive and tender exploration of birth and death, transgression and abnormity.
“[Expectant] impresses with a richness of thought we rarely see in contemporary literature … it is in this richness of thought, and the author’s almost sensational capacity for elegant and eye-opening sentences that [Expectant] grips the reader by the intellect and refuses to let go until the very last page has been turned … I have underlined a two-digit figure of paragraphs of this kind in my copy of the book. Only Solstad at his best can write about time in this way … Without a single vague word, or a single pseudo-poetic foggy thought, Bakke’s text works its way towards insight. And the reader thanks his lucky stars that he can be a part of that journey … It’s tempting to fill this entire review with commentaries to Bakke’s thoughts on the passage of time and how it for each of us fills up the space between life’s beginning and end.”
“Among this year’s best. A brilliant novel by a writer who deserves a far greater readership … an incredibly rich novel. He discusses themes like time – what is time, how do we understand it, what does it do to us? But there is also a story here about being left on the outside and about fear … The novel also has a tongue in cheek, laconic humour … Bakke’s prose is unusually rich and precise, finely tuned and unmannered … EXPECTANT is the kind of book where you understand how much power and beauty can be found in language. How important literature can be. And how good this book actually is … This is among he best Norwegian novels you can read this year”
“It’s a joy to hold a new book by Gunstein Bakke in your hands … This is tight and overwhelming writing, an insightful and interestingly narrated story about great loneliness … What makes the novel brilliant is the quality of the writing, and the author’s ability to pick apart and show us the human condition – the tragedies, the loneliness and the madness – in new and surprising ways”
“Among this year’s very best … Reading Gunstein Bakke’s new novel is a physical challenge. You feel it in the muscles, the heart, the lungs, it opens up new rooms where one thought after the other can unfold. If I were less afraid of cheap puns, I would immediately say that this is a novel that strikes you to the ground. At least that is the feeling I’m left with, after finishing the book. I had to draw deep breaths during the reading too, feel how my heart pumps blood through oars, veins, out to the outermost fiber of my human body … Part of the magic of this novel is discovering the interconnections little by little, as Gunstein Bakke almost reluctantly pulls away one veil after another … The magnificent thing here is that Bakke constantly embraces the human. Sometimes by exploring a gaze or a moment: Julia is frozen in time, having had her body stuffed after her death. She is trapped in the gaze of others, like an insect caught in a piece of amber or the plaster casts of lovers, people asleep or at play after the eruption by Pompeii. Individual lives catch fire in glimpses … Bakke expands the flow of thoughts, reflections, portraying the time that fills the spaces between each moment, those spaces we jump over when we piece moments together into a story of our lives … The interconnections between the different chapters, the ongoing exploration through prose that constantly set new references spinning, makes me dizzy. And it touches my senses in a powerful way. Expectant is a brilliant work of literature.»
“Bakke’s detailed tenderness sends this reviewer’s brain into meltdown out of sheer enthusiasm”
“A brilliantly structured triptych with lexical gravity, poetic punch and complex reflections … It’s easy to be impressed by Expectant”