This quiet little novel (a translation) is a sleeper, set in Oslo, Norway, in the 1960s. Little Finn and his mother modestly renovate their small apartment to accommodate a lodger and Finnís half-sister, Linda, who can no longer safely remain with her mother. Enjoying the particularities of his life with his mother, Finn is unsure what Lindaís arrival will mean to their lives, but within minutes of viewing the solemn, chubby six-year-old, Finn has given away a piece of his heart forever. The idea of a lodger is a more difficult proposition, a private man yet strangely willing to participate in family events, to assume a role if needed: ďIt was a warning sign, both the onset of a collapse and a new beginning.Ē
Finnís measured and financially restricted childhood takes on a new dimension with Lindaís arrival, an awareness of the childís needs and his own responsibilities towards her, brotherly affection, even. Things fall more clearly into place when the family has an opportunity to share an island vacation free of the usual constraints, a large tent provided by the generosity of the lodger. On this unexpected vacation, Finn begins his painful journey toward newfound maturity, conscious for the first time of his motherís carefully guarded past and family secrets, a history kept under lock and key. It is also on this vacation that Linda blooms, learns to swim, and becomes even more entrenched in Finnís affections, like it or not.
Contrasting the idyllic days on the island with the daily hardships at the flat, Jacobsen tells a painful coming-of-age story in which Finn will learn to discard the trust of childhood and assume the privacy of adolescence, as well as the heart-wrenching break from the charmed circle of his motherís confidence, a young woman who has by necessity kept much to herself. It is a transition not easily made and one fraught with recriminations and judgments, the harsh lessons of Little Finnís peers and establishing Lindaís place in the larger world, where Finn cannot protect her.
The characters are wonderfully rendered, from a bighearted babysitter to the less-trustworthy lodger, who has his eye lasciviously trained on Finnís mother but guards his own secrets as well behind a faÁade of reserve and passivity belied by his actions. It is a difficult process for an unsure young man, but with Linda now firmly ensconced in the family, Finn is exploring a more expansive definition of himself as brother and protector. The world intrudes, of course, childhood banished with the devastating realities of his motherís reluctantly shared history and the decisions she has made - both right and wrong- when circumstances force her to take action. The vulnerability of childhood is a constant theme, the thread that binds Linda and Little Finn so forcefully together, the adultsí betrayals never palatable or reasonable, only fallible. A lovely, moving novel that I am grateful not to have missed.