This is the book I thought I was starting when I was reading Den rettferdige. Turns out the latter is actually better, even though the subject matter of this book is closer to my heart: linguistic research at the University of Oslo at the fictive and costly (hah! humor right there!) institute of Futuristic Linguistics.
Everything that does concern the university, all the small comments on different departments and researchers are pure gold. It's so perfectly done it just has to be extremely spot-on (I currently work on a linguistics project at a university, but from home, so I see very little drama). The rest, however, is a bit too long. It only gets really interesting during the last 100 pages, and half the characters are... unlikeable or borderline unlikeable. The narrative style reminds me a lot of Den rettferdige, but the techniques that worked there are somewhat overworked here. The hints at what will come are too many, and too ominous, considering the plot does not concern life and death, but rather careers and hurt pride. Instead of having so many actual hints referring to "the event" and "what will happen", more hints could have been incorporated in the actual events. When Nanna doesn't get Pål's childhood story of singing on the tram, that's one. There could have been more things like that, subtler and more insinuative than outright stating So This Will Soon Be Going To Hell, Just Wait A Bit.
That being said, I love one of the main characters: Edith. Edith the super linguist with less than perfect people skills is the female counterpart of Albert Sterne in The Definitive Albert J. Sterne (awesome book!). She's like my linguist super hero. You don't meet lots of those. Her, I love. The other characters are just annoying enough to be unpleasant to read about. That made the book a bit of a chore, since the plot is something like 50/50 centered around Edith and Nanna/Pål respectively. Nanna? Ugh, hate at first sight...
And Pål? I do get Pål. The way Uri illustrates his anxieties and shortcomings through his two key childhood stories is actually very good, but the whole thing somehow falls short. Pål should perhaps have been less happy for his character to fully work; despite his "chameleon"-thing, he's too confident in his own skills (both social and professional), and he ends up getting no sympathy - from me, at least. His behavior at the very end doesn't quite match up with his Happy Confident Man-character.
Helene Uri deserves an applause for including Pål's mother, though. Pål's mother secretly writes historical and other type romances, but she does it without being ridiculed for it in a book that belongs to The Elite World of Real Literature, and guess what? Miss Super Linguist shamelessly reads those books. Guess what Miss Super Linguist also does? Scoffs at linguistic prescriptivism. Me and Edith, we're like two peas in... no, wait, Edith is actually a brilliant linguist. I wish I had more of her intelligence, and not just her "people? urghrgh..."-traits. (Other activities of Edith's include playing around with young students, admiring her shoe collection, eating chocolate and generally not giving a fuck. What a woman.)
eBook De beste blant oss