Bjørn Esben Almaas

Bjørn Esben Almaas
Lene Sørøy Neverdal
Bjørn Esben Almaas: Den gode vennen. Novel, Oktober forlag, 2019. Nominated for the 2020 Nordic Council Literature Prize.


Ten years after his last book, Bjørn Esben Almaas returns with Den gode vennen (in English, “The good friend”, not translated) – a beautiful, nervous, and clear-cut piece of literature, a novel that could be argued to gently derive its energy from such non-Nordic literary masters as Patrick Modiano and Emmanuel Bove. It is in this vein that Almaas has gone his own way since his debut in 2001.

The novel opens: “Into the dim light between the shelves appears a man.” And ends: “He soon disappears behind a green hedge and so is no longer visible.”

In Almaas’s latest release there flows an undercurrent that depicts a childhood, but it is not a nostalgic or bittersweet deconstruction of the past, nor is it a mollified portrayal of an upbringing. Den gode vennen is, rather, a harsh and agonising account, a relentless message of recurring anguish, of suffering, and of evil.

Although the structure of Den gode vennen as a novel is seemingly simple, it often utilises a successful compositional strategy in which even complex forms appear to flow effortlessly. In fact, there is a unique unpolished condensation in the very syntax of Almaas’s story.

Almaas has written a restrained yet equally deeply engrossing novel about a child’s miserable circumstances, about persistent and hidden suffering, and about the shortcomings of adults. The story of a trauma, one might call it.

Den gode vennen reveals the events of the childhood in reverse, while the adult man’s life – the present-day family life – billows and rolls forwards with all the dramaturgical pressure of a classic crime novel. With his sure grasp of this intersecting trajectory, Almaas shows that he has developed a style of writing with a unique sense of refinement.​​​​​​

Den gode vennen is a disturbing report of a miserable upbringing, but it also contains a wistful intensity – an intensity that only truly good literature can bestow upon us.