Nov 15, 2009

Confronting the magic penis head on

"To The Editor
'The Discoverer,' by Jan Kjaerstad: The Longest Fjord
(October 25, 2009)

I must object to Tom Shone’s review of Jan Kjaerstad’s novel “The Discoverer” (Oct. 25). I am making my way through “The Conqueror,” the previous entry in Kjaerstad’s trilogy about the life of a TV broadcaster named Jonas Wergeland. The trilogy is a very interesting extended treatment of the dramatic changes in Norwegian culture in our lifetime, as the country has transformed from an insular, tightly knit society with a commitment to austerity into one of the richest nations on earth. The resulting complexities should be of great interest to American readers, particularly in light of Norway’s multifaceted response to our own consumerist indulgences and concern with the surface of things. It is too bad that Shone’s less than positive response will erode Kjaerstad’s reader base here.

The writer is an associate professor in the department of television and radio at Brooklyn College"

This was in response to my review of the trilogy about the guy with the magic penis. It is true: there was also a bunch of boring stuff in there about the dramatic changes in Norwegian culture in our lifetime, etc etc. You think I didn't notice? Getting through that stuff was probably my greatest achievement as a reader, or indeed as a human being. But the novel remains, at heart and in essence, a book about a man with a magic penis. That was the major objection I had with it. I felt like Kjaerstad had a lot of talking to do. I still do. No counter-argument can duck the issue. There is simply no getting around the whole magic penis angle without misrepresenting the experience of reading the book. You cannot say that its all about the multifaceted response to our own consumerist indulgences and concern with the surface of things. It also features this guy with a day-glo magic penis. You must not be shy. You must confront it head on. You must say: "I think magic penises are an excellent thing in a novel. There aren't nearly enough of them in my opinion, particularly when confronting the multifaceted response to our own consumerist indulgences. Three cheers for Jan Kjaerstaad!" or something along those lines. Until that point, the multifaceted responses, not to mention the dramatic changes in Norwegian society in our lifetime, no matter how compendiously enumerated, will have been for nought.


  1. It's a bit more than a novel about a central character with a magic penis, Tom, to put it mildly, which I am. I hope you're thriving.

    Gary Pulsifer
    Arcadia Books

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