Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

A Man and His Moose: Erlend Loe’s Doppler (2012)

First, it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. The book, not the moose. And there’s something charming about that, right?

House of Anansi, 2012(Trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw)

And something seductive about the idea that you can easily sit down with a book and meet its characters and stay with them, in a single sitting, until they lumber off towards the horizon that lies beyond the final page.

That alone might be enough to recommend the book, especially at this time of year, when many people are stuffing stockings.

(When many bookish folks in particular are trying to excuse the buying of books for the un-bookish who might be persuaded to read just the “right” book, if only that mystery could be solved.)

Erlend Loe’s Doppler might well be that book. Certainly if you know a man (or a woman) who has always wanted a moose, it’s quite likely there’s a match to be made between them and this slim volume.

(And it turns out that I, too, always wanted a moose; I just didn’t realize it until Doppler himself had one. So even if said man or woman has not yet articulated this desire to you, it could be latent.)

And, did I mention that it’s funny?

But Norwegian-funny, which sounds a lot like Canadian-funny, when the author is asked to describe it (which he does in the Indigo Spotlight here), with silence and loneliness mixed into the humour.

Because of course what one reader finds funny is not what the next reader finds funny.

That could have something to do with what A.L. Kennedy has said of humour:

“Humour is a perfectly legitimate response to the horror of the world.”**

So, perhaps the reader only finds humour where they have also recognized horror (and sought the other side of the proverbial coin in response).

Doppler is certainly horrified. He has had a cycling accident and now views the world differently.

(The interviewer in the Indigo Spotlight above suggested that some readers have believed Doppler is mentally ill, but Erlend Loe believes that his narrator has simply entered a different phase of his life after the accident rather than suffered some sort of mind-altering blow during the accident.)

The accident challenges many of Doppler’s basic assumptions about the workings of the world, a world which he comes to disdain and from which he yearns to separate.

“Cyclists are an oppressed breed, we are a silent minority, our hunting grounds are diminishing all the time and we’re being forced into patterns of behavior which aren’t natural to us, we can’t speak our own language, we’re being forced underground.”

He feels increasingly separate from the world around him, from the wider world and from his own family (his wife, his teenage daughter who is obsessed with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films and young son who loves the Teletubbies).

“But as a cyclist you’re forced to be an outlaw. You’re forced to live on the wild side of society and at odds with established traffic conventions which are increasingly focused on motorized traffic, even for healthy people.”

And, so, he leaves that world behind for the “wild side”, and he moves to the forest. (Well, you knew he had to meet the moose somehow, right?)

(Erlend Loe set up a tent in a forest too, for two years, in an isolated area which overlooked the city below, but he did not leave his family behind, nor did he ever spend a night in the tent.)

Of course it wasn’t all about the accident; it has a good bit to do with Doppler’s  father’s recent death.

And that loss has a good bit to do with Doppler’s bond with the moose, who has recently lost his mother and knows nothing of his father. (This theme of loss/yearning echoes with other minor characters too, but discussing them reveals too much of the plot — what little plot there is.)

Doppler initially resists responsibility for the young creature, but Bongo persists, and a curious bond develops between the four-legged and two-legged, although Bongo remains decidedly moose-like (no Talking Animal device here).

“The only thing you know for sure is that he’s a moose, I say. And most probably quite a big moose, since he managed to mate with your mother, who herself was quite a size, not to say large. You’re going to be big too, I say, and take him outside the tent and measure him against a fir tree. I see to it he keeps his head up, and place a book on top and cut a notch in the tree and carve in the date. So that we can keep track of how quickly you grow, I say.”

Life in the forest alters Doppler’s understanding of the world even more. And given that he spend so much alone with Bongo, who is a very good listener while he is young, Doppler spends a lot of time thinking, musing, philosophizing.

“I have no idea to what extent these thoughts are rooted in reality. Nor if what we so boldly call reality exists at all. The only thing I can be fairly sure about is that the fire warms me and that a little moose by the name of Bongo lies at my feet purring, if that’s what you call it when moose emit sounds of pleasure.”

When Bongo gets a little older, Doppler spends even more time on his own.

“According to the moose calendar, he’s on the cusp of becoming a teenager, I would guess. This is a sensitive and defiant period, and we have many long discussions about it. Bongo leaves the tent in a temper several times, but happily he always comes back.”

He spends even more time thinking.

“One problem with people is that as soon as they fill a space it’s them you see and not the space. Large, desolate landscapes stop being large, desolate landscapes once they have people in them. They define what the eye sees. And the human eye is almost always directed at other humans. In this way an illusion is created that humans are more important than those things on earth which are not human. It’s a sick illusion.”

And therein lies the horrific side of being human.

Doppler does not have answers, only questions. He perceives problems but stumbles around the idea of solutions.

This fits with what Howard Jacobson says (in the interview which included the A.L. Kennedy quote above): humour is rooted in skepticism and there is no room for certainty in it.

Doppler considers the long list of questions that a man might ask a moose, but the reader is left to grapple with the answers (and without their own personal Bongo to curl up with at night).

A copy of this in a stocking will get readers chuckling, even while quietly posing the question of why it was so important to stuff that stocking in the first place. There is even a Christmas scene in the novel, to make the gifting of this volume that much more appropriate.

(And me? I am quietly lamenting that a moose doesn’t come pocket-sized.)

And you?

* Eleanor Wachtel chose this quote to launch the CBC Writers & Company Interview on December 2, 2012: Dark Humour Panel with ALK, Erlend Loe, and Howard Jacobson

Project Notes: 
Day 19 of 45: This is one of the volumes that I bought with my AList, and I’m glad that House of Anansi has their 30% off sale right now, because I can think of so many reading friends who would love Bongo (I mean, Doppler…I mean Doppler).  This was the perfect read for right now: a single-sitting read that is small enough to comfortably curl up with and big enough to hold a moose and huge ideas.

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