Gig Review: Tore Renberg in Bath

One of the books that I have recently had the pleasure of reviewing is Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author. In this helpful guide, Francis Plug advises authors on how best to behave at the increasingly popular literary events. No longer can writers hide at home behind their desks. They are now expected to promote their books by giving talks, readings and signing their works in bookshops and at festivals around the world.

I had never before been to an author event. One may reasonably think that, having read of the escapades of Francis Plug, I would be inclined to keep it that way. However, last night I had the opportunity to meet Tore Renberg, author of another book that I have recently reviewed and enjoyed, See You Tomorrow. He was due to appear at a book shop in the city of Bath, a mere fifteen or so miles from the rural idyll where I live. I decided that I would eschew my more typical avoidance of crowds and attend.

The event was held at Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath, which is a fabulous independent book shop close to the heart of this beautiful city. As one would expect of such a venue, it is chock full of books, meaning that the audience could never be overly large. Arriving early, I gratefully accepted a glass of wine and seated myself on a fold up chair close to the table where the author would stand. Again I was breaking habits which would normally have drawn me to hide in a back row. I wanted to observe this writer whose work I admired up close. Already I was thinking of the question that I wished to ask, wondering if I would have the courage to do so.

After a brief introduction from the proprietor, Tore Renberg started his talk. Despite being a native of Norway, his English is excellent. He told us about his background, how he had wanted to be a writer since he was a teenager. He explained how ‘See You Tomorrow’ started as a twenty page idea, evolving into a six hundred page, character driven thriller over a number of years. He spoke eloquently and passionately about his influences and his work before reading from the book being discussed.

Hearing him read was fascinating. The voices that he gave his characters differed from the voices that I had given them. I gained perspective on the lives that he had created.

After the reading the audience had a chance to ask questions. One of the aspects of the book that intrigued me was the supposed humour which had eluded me. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for its insights, believable characters and compelling plot. Where others saw the dark humour that the author intended though, I had seen pathos. When I asked him about this I realised that it was I who was out of kilter with the general view. Each reader comes to a book bearing their personal experiences and prejudices. It would seem that, in this case, my concept of humour is atypical.

Hoping that I had not upset or offended (I know that creative types can be sensitive to criticism) I queued to have my copy of the book signed. Having managed to quell my anxieties sufficiently to attend and take part in this event, I reverted to type and became tongue tied. I hope that he took on board that I enjoyed his book even if I did not find it funny.

As well as the author, his publicist attended the event meaning that I had the opportunity to introduce myself to a lovely lady who I have only previously conversed with via social media. Naturally she was busy so I did not linger. Clutching my personally inscribed book I made my way home, thinking about how pleasurable the evening had been. Literature can bring together such disparate yet interesting people.

‘See You Tomorrow’ is available now with the paperback version being published tomorrow. Tore Renberg will be appearing in Waterstones, Piccadilly at 6.30pm this Friday.

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Book Review: See You Tomorrow

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See You Tomorrow, by Tore Renberg, is a disturbing tale of people making a mess of their lives. Three groups of disparate characters living in a small town in Norway find their lives overlapping during an intense three days. The reader is taken inside each of their heads, an often uncomfortable place to be. There is little common sense in any of their behaviours, yet the actions depicted are depressingly believable.

All of the characters have back stories that have left them damaged. Their lives are filled with personal isolation, broken families and a seeming inability to take control with any sort of sagacity. I found it hard to empathise with many of the predicaments described, the choices made being hard to comprehend as so lacking in foresight.

The loving father who had run up debts was desperate and perhaps didn’t understand exactly what he was getting himself into. The teenagers were exploring boundaries, sexual awakenings and new relationships so could be forgiven many of their actions due to age and inexperience. This group garnered more of my sympathy, even if the consequences they created proved to be the most devastating.

It was the group of small time crooks who frustrated me the most, and whose depiction gained the author my admiration. I had not considered that such people would think in the way described in this book, that they would commend each others execrable thoughts and actions, be so shallow in their aspirations; yet to choose to live such lives they would have to think differently. Their casual racism and sexism grated, but it was their mutual admiration for the highlights of their sordid lifestyle that I found hard to stomach.

See You Tomorrow is undoubtedly well written. The twists and turns of the plot were unpredictable and I was eager to find out what happened to each of the characters as the results of their actions played out. I like to read diversely and felt I learned something from this book about the workings of the underbelly of society. It is disturbing to think that such people may exist, not evil but smugly satisfied with their limited and damaging way of life.

The denouement left me feeling that little had been learned by the protagonists. I felt defeated by this, that society could be so disappointing. Whilst certainly not a feel good book, it is perhaps a powerful argument for supporting those in need, of not turning away. This is a story that challenged me with its pathos and anger. I will be mulling it over for some time to come.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Arcadia Books.