Doppler is the second novel I have read in Norwegian, and happens to be the second novel I’ve read by Erlend Loe. It’s also the second time I have tried to read this book. The first time round, my Norwegian was nowhere near good enough and it was just an exercise in frustration.
As I’ll come to later, the humour in the story may not be for everyone, but for those learning Norwegian, I can’t recommend this book enough. Short, snappy sentences make it easy to read, even for a novice, and there’s the added bonus of learning lots of new and creative swearing along the way, too.
Falling off his bike one day, shortly after this father’s death, Doppler has a revelation that leads to him denouncing modern life to go live in a tent in a forest on the outskirts of Oslo. The story follows Doppler, told through his dry, black-as-the-countryside-night humour, as he survives in the forest and eventually survives the burdensome company of others.
There is something of Forrest Gump to Doppler, in that he is a man-child whose simple outlook hones in on some deep truths. Doppler is relatable in a way that Gump’s cloying naivety (both in the books, and especially in the film) sometimes isn’t, but Doppler’s selfish qualities, which he hides behind the excuse that ‘people don’t like him and he doesn’t like people’, make him an uncomfortably sympathetic character.
A love of nature and comfort with his own company may lie behind Doppler’s self-imposed exile, but it’s clear that the real motivation is quite simply that he has come to hate the responsibility that comes with having a job and a mortgage and a wife and children that are obsessed with Lord of the Rings and Bob the Builder, something we’ve all felt at some time. It isn’t true that he doesn’t get on with people, because Doppler makes friends easily enough, including the man who catches him trying to steal a giant Toblerone, and later the man trying to rob his house in middle of the night. Early on in his exile, he befriends an elk calf, orphaned after Doppler puts a knife through its mother’s throat, using the meat to trade for milk in the local supermarket. He and the calf, whom he christens Bongo (after his father, except his father wasn’t called Bongo), become the best of friends, sleeping and eating together, and putting the world to rights in decidedly one-sided conversations (just the way Doppler likes it).
Loe uses Doppler to cock a snook at modern consumerism, but the book is also about absent fathers (dead or in self-imposed exile). Dusseldorf, the owner of the over-sized chocolate, distracts himself from reality by burying himself in making a model recreation of his German father’s death in Ardennes during the Second World War. Doppler does the same by fixing his attention over many months on building a totem pole as a monument to his father. Gregus, Doppler’s young son, misses having his father around and chooses to join him the forest, riding around on Bongo and annoying Doppler with inconvenient questions.
I finished reading the book whilst staying at my in-laws cabin near Sjusjøen , where there actually lived a recluse, Lambert Olestadengen, better known locally as Ludden. He moved up to the mountains and lived as a hermit from 1915 to 1955, living off the plentiful berries and what he could fish and hunt, trading the surplus in the nearest town for everything else. His hut still stands as a tourist attraction, maintained by the Brøttum History Society, as does his fish hut, which stands on a small island in the middle of the lake near our cabin, Kroksjøen. You can see lots of amazing photos of Ludden here, and a collection of paintings of him and his cabin here.
As I read Doppler, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with Ludden. Then I came across this quote from Ludden, which I think sums up Doppler’s philosophy too: “What people call civilisation is creeping ever further into the mountains… So be it – I don’t want to shut the mountains off to anybody. I just move further into the mountains as modern times approach.”
Both Ludden and Doppler, for similar reasons at very different times, indulged in an escapism that many may occasionally dream of, but few have the guts or the selfishness to follow through. Ludden’s hermit adventure ended with his death in 1955, Doppler’s (along with Bongo’s and Gregus’) continues in the sequel, Volvo lastvagnar, which I am very much looking forward to reading.