The title caught my eye.
Buzz Aldrin, what happened to you in all the confusion?
And I too wanted to know, what happened to Buzz Aldrin. And what this book, set in Norway, had to do with Buzz Aldrin.
So I was surprised to find an opening about rain. And the thoughts of a very ordinary man.
Who has had a very pedestrian life.
Who just wants to be a regular guy, who doesn’t stand out.
“Some people want to be in the audience.
Some people want to be cogs. Not because they have to, but because they want to be.
So here I was. Here in the garden, and I wanted to be nowhere else in the world.”
This is Mattias. He is 29 years old. And he is a gardener. He loves his job. He’s the kind of guy who comes into work early, who sits in the garden and watches the traffic go by.
“If I could have just one wish, I often thought it might have been for nothing to change. To have everything fixed for eternity. I wanted predictable days.”
Other than that, since he was a youngster, Mattias has been a fan of Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. Aldrin is, for him, the man who was on the moon when everyone had turned off their TVs and gone to bed, the one who works hard behind the scenes, no less important, just less visible.
“Buzz Aldrin’s story had to be read between the lines about Neil Armstrong, and other illustrious men, hIs was the great story of the parentheses.”
He even dressed as Aldrin during a high school dance, where he finally spoke to Helle, the new girl. The one he fell head over heels for the first time he saw her.
“Because you’ve been there too, haven’t you, you’ve been there in that class, when you’ve fallen in love with one of the others, on the first or third day, and the room seems to grow infinitely small, cramped and it’s hard to sit at your desk, and there’s nowhere to fix your gaze, because if you look at her, everybody will notice, and if you look the other way, look up, look at the wall, look beyond them and at the blackboard, as if that one particular person doesn’t exist, they’ll notice that too, and they’ll think you really overrate yourself, sitting like that pretending you don’t care. Because it can’t be hidden. You’re totally transparent. Cellophane. And as breakable.”
Mattias is also good friends with Jørn, a musician, who invites him to the Faroe Islands to be the band’s sound tech. And somehow Mattias finds himself alone and bleeding and in the middle of nowhere, with no idea how he got there. A passerby stops to help him and eventually invites him to stay with him. Havstein lives in Gjogv, a little settlement in the north, with three others, a kind of halfway house. And there he finds himself in a place he hardly expected to be:
“…the fields spread imperceptibly out into the landscape and rose to become massive hills you could almost stroll over, a completely rounded landscape with no irregularities or jutting knolls, opening itself up in all directions this, I thought, was like the moon, dressed in grass, this was what it must have been like to walk on the moon for the first time, an untouched wasteland. And I was an explorer of virgin territories. I knew nothing, was nobody, and I think I was grateful.”
This is a story about friendship and kind of about finding yourself.
(Although there is a funny/depressing moment (as quite a bit of the book seems to be) when Mattias thinks of Norwegian band de Lillos’ song with the lyrics “Are you trying to find yourself? What if the man you found, was a man you didn’t like, who you’d have to live with for the rest of your life?”)
Harstad’s stream-of-consciousness style isn’t for everyone. As is the fact that this is not a plot-driven book. And I have to be honest, it can be depressing at times. This is far from a cheery feel-good story that makes you feel all warm inside. But I found myself just completely sucked into the story of Mattias, of life on the Faroe Islands. And his ordinariness. Because I too was that kid who never stood out, who never got the top marks in class, never excelled in sports or activities, who turned up on time and didn’t cause any trouble.
“I was the kid in your class in elementary school, in high school, at college, whose name you can’t remember when you take out the class photo ten years later, to show your boyfriend or girlfriend how you looked back then.”
I’ll leave you with a little soundtrack for the book. The Cardigans – a favorite with one of the characters, and this song is quite a suitable one for this book: “For the good times and the bad times we know will come”