Nobel Literature Prize 2023: best books by winner Jon Fosse

Nobel Literature Prize 2023: best books by winner Jon Fosse

Illuminating the human soul through sparse prose

by Suswati Basu
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The prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 2023 has found a worthy recipient in the form of Norwegian literary luminary, Jon Fosse. The Swedish Academy, in their commendation, celebrated Fosse’s contribution to the world of literature as a writer whose works embody the quintessential Nordic ethos. From the grand stage of the Nobel Prize, Fosse’s body of work was hailed for its ability to “give voice to the unsayable,” a testament to the profound and evocative nature of his storytelling.

Jon Fosse in black top and black blazer in front of blue background as he as was announced as 2023 Nobel Prize for Literature winner.
Jon Fosse in Stavanger 2007. Credit: Jarle Vines.

Who is Nobel Literature Prize winner Jon Fosse?

Fosse stands as a literary giant with a prolific output that spans across multiple genres, encompassing more than 60 plays, 20 novels, and a treasury of poetry and short stories. At the heart of his artistry lies a minimalist style that speaks volumes through its restraint, a style that transcends boundaries and explores the most profound facets of human existence: loneliness, isolation, and the ceaseless quest for meaning.

The significance of Fosse’s Nobel win cannot be overstated, as he becomes the first Norwegian writer to claim this esteemed accolade since Knut Hamsun’s triumph in 1920. This milestone comes in the wake of the Swedish Academy’s turbulent period in 2018, marked by a sexual assault scandal and the resignation of several of its members, making Fosse’s recognition all the more remarkable.

Jon Fosse joins the illustrious ranks of Nobel laureates, becoming the 116th person to be honoured with the Nobel Prize in Literature. His formal reception of the award is scheduled for December 10, 2023, a date that carries the historical weight of Alfred Nobel’s passing.

Best books to read by Jon Fosse

Within Fosse’s literary oeuvre, several works have emerged as jewels in the crown of contemporary literature. Here are a few of his most celebrated masterpieces:

  • Melancholy (1995-1996). This narrative delves into the world of Norwegian painter Lars Hertervig, tracing his agonising journey as a young student in Düsseldorf. Fosse’s portrayal of unrequited love and artistic turmoil guides Hertervig towards the precipice of a mental breakdown.
  • Morning and Evening (Morgon og kveld) (2000). In this novella, Fosse intricately weaves the story of a fisherman, revealing the intimate moments of his birth from his father’s perspective and the profound occurrences surrounding his eventual death.
  • Wakefulness (Andvake) (2007). Set in a bygone era, this tale follows the young couple of Asle and Alida as they arrive in the city of Bjørgvin. As outcasts with only each other to rely on, their journey mirrors the enduring saga of Joseph and Mary in the Gospels.
  • Septology (2019-2021). A monumental seven-volume novel, Septology delves into the lives of two siblings, Asle and Ales, traversing the complex terrain of love, loss, faith, and the inexorable passage of time. Fosse’s signature spare and poetic style shines through, unearthing the enigmas of the human condition.
Read: Nobel Literature Prize 2023: past winners of the last decade
  • The Other Name (2019). Nestled within the Septology trilogy is “The Other Name,” a profound exploration of two men’s lives on the Norwegian west coast. Against the backdrop of a year drawing to a close, aging painter and widower Asle reflects upon his life’s journey.
  • Nightsongs (1997). Fosse paints a poignant picture of a young couple grappling with the arrival of their first child. The man’s pursuit of a writing career, continually thwarted by publishers, mirrors the woman’s growing disillusionment with their circumstances.
  • A Shining (2023). In a mesmerising narrative, Fosse guides readers on a man’s odyssey into the depths of a forest and the recesses of his soul, in a quest for the elusive glimmer of light.
  • Aliss at The Fire (2010). In this elegantly simple tale, Fosse transports readers to a fjord-side house where a middle-aged woman reflects on a pivotal moment 23 years earlier. The day her husband, Asle, ventured onto stormy waters, never to return, remains etched in her memory.
  • Dream of Autumn (1999). Set against the backdrop of encroaching autumn, Fosse unfurls a passionate affair rekindled amid the sombre atmosphere of a graveyard. Nearby, the protagonist’s parents await the burial of a loved one, weaving a tapestry of emotion and reflection.

These works bear witness to Jon Fosse’s literary prowess, characterised by its minimalist beauty and profound insights into the human condition. Often likened to the great Henrik Ibsen, Fosse’s storytelling is imbued with the spirit of classic existential writers like Franz Kafka.

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