Ellinor, a 35-year-old media consultant, has not been feeling herself; she’s not been feeling much at all lately. Far beyond jaded, she picks through an old diary and fails to recognise the woman in its pages, seemingly as far away from the world around her as she’s ever been. But when her coworker vanishes overnight, an unusual new task is dropped on her desk. Off she goes to meet the Norwegian Postal Workers Union, setting the ball rolling on a strange and transformative six months.
This is an existential scream of a novel about loneliness (and the postal service!), written in Vigdis Hjorth’s trademark spare, rhythmic and cutting style.
This is the first novel I have read by Vigdis Hjorth, and I want to thank Maya at Verso for sending me a copy of Long Live The Post Horn! in exchange for an honest review. I am delighted to have been introduced to the Norwegian novelist’s work, and will certainly be seeking out more of her books.
The premise of this book is nothing if not intriguing: I do love a blurb that takes you aback, and I was unsure what to expect from a novel with such a jaunty title and such odd subject matter. Indeed, this book turned out to be quite different from anything else I have read this year. Its ‘redemption of a misanthrope’ arc is faintly reminiscent of A Man Called Ove, and its protagonist’s utter separation from other people calls to mind another fictional Eleanor, but this book is unique in its mixture of really quite profound existential despair and bleakness coupled with moments of real human truth and beauty. I was deeply moved by it, which is not what I was expecting.
Ellinor is so mired in her own solipsistic numbness that it takes a while to adjust to the relentless “I’s” of her first person narrative; her relationships with coworkers, family, and even her lover are an almost distasteful process of ‘going through the motions’. There isn’t an awful lot of back story, but this suits Ellinor’s personality – she who can barely remember what happened a few years ago, who struggles to hook the story of her life onto the emotional landmarks that others use. She is cold, distant and completely fascinating. I have never encountered a character quite like her. If, like me, you read to discover new ways of seeing the world, Ellinor’s narrative provides that sense in spades.
And then there is the postal directive, an intrusion of politics and current affairs into Ellinor’s otherwise unmarked canvas of a life. Her PR firm must help the Norwegian postal service to oppose an EU directive which would lead to their services being undercut by inferior competitiors. It is a quirky sideswipe, but it works, and it works brilliantly. Some of the most moving passages in the novel come from the postal workers’ reactions to the directive, and Ellinor’s gradual thawing in response to their humanity is really beautifully done. Although this is a very different type of novel, it reminded me slightly of Ronan Hession’s Leonard and Hungry Paul, in the way that this book also shows that there is much to be learned from the quiet dignity of the mundane; the things we overlook, take for granted, never even stop to consider. These might just be the things that can save us. Long Live the Post Horn! arrives at this idea via a howl of despair rather than the gentle, comforting hum of Hession’s book, but for me there is a link between the two.
This is not a long book, but it is immersive, original, and, for me, one that tapped into some pretty big emotions. It is a bit of an oddity, as is Ellinor herself, but I really would urge you to read it, to be surprised, and to maybe let it change the way you see certain things. I for one am extremely grateful to have read this book, and to have discovered the writing of Hjorth in Charlotte Barslund’s taut translation. And I’ll probably be thinking about it every time I post a letter for a good long while.
Long Live the Post Horn! is published by Verso Books and is available to purchase here.