A perusal of the cover and title of Norwegian By Night – you merely have to lift your eyes up a bit; that’s it, there – and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re looking at another Scandi crime, or Nordic noir, or whatever. Actually, it’s a different animal altogether.
It’s the story of Sheldon Horowitz, an elderly jewish man – who may, or may not be in the early stages of dementia – who goes on the run with a young boy, chased across Norway by Kosovan gangsters and the police.
Sheldon is a magnificent creation. A veteran of Korea and a force of nature, Sheldon suffers from survivor’s guilt. Nearly everyone in his life has come and gone, and he still hasn’t recovered from the death of his son Saul in the Vietnam War. As a result, Sheldon still has conversations from his old friends and his mind wanders back to events which may – or may not have happened – in his past.
Norwegian By Night has got all the big themes that make your shoulders droop – grief and loss and regret – and it places them on the shoulders of this larger-than-life character. There are other great characters in Norwegian By Night, including Sigrid the policewoman and Enver the Kosovan killer, but Sheldon dominates the book. And Paul, the mute boy with whom he goes on the run, is the perfect foil to allow Sheldon to communicate his many thoughts.
Norwegian By Night reads like a thriller, it moves like a thriller. It’s got villains and cops and a manhunt, but Sheldon himself, and his coterie of dead chums, often seem like they’ve stepped out of a different novel altogether.
Interestingly, Miller says he wrote Sheldon’s story as a thriller because it gave him structure and momentum, but the thriller elements are written exceedingly well, and the climax, combing these two aspects of the book, is very satisfying.
Miller is an American who lives in Oslo, and it took a while for him to find an English-speaking publisher for Norwegian By Night, a surprise considering the quality of the writing, and it was originally published in Norwegian.
What I liked: You don’t have to have a cop or a detective as your protagonist. Norwegian By Night features a central character who is an 82-year-old man haunted by the ghosts of the people he loved and lost. Sheldon jumps off the page every time he appears, and Miller clearly had a ball writing him. If you’re going to spend many days and nights writing a novel, make sure your protagonist is someone you’re going to want to spend a lot – and I mean a lot – of time with. For the duration, it’ll be the most serious relationship you have.