Sorry I hurt your feeling.
Notes on Åh!
By Rasmus á Rógvu
Notes inspired by a recent review of Rógvu’s ‘Åh’ in Denmark’s finest soft rightwing newspaper which criticised the novel for being, well, 'girly', or as an exercise in what the reviewer claimed hip liberal newpapers might call ‘the post-sentimental’. Actually, the post-sentimental is a good term for what is a great novel.
1. The title. An ejaculation of feeling. An exclamation, but with a still soft Ooo sound. Also, an expression of mild surprise. Calm content enlightenment. Most of all a sigh: the novel will be about sensibility, both subtle and properly pathetic. Without the sharp unpleasant aggression of a 'ha'.
2. The novel is well-constructed to a fault. Coherence achieved through overlap of symbolic objects, clear foreshadowing, chapter cliffhangers and hindsight reflection. The characters smoothly weave in and out of focus. This ease of reading is in curious juxtaposition with its content.
3. Short chapters but not episodic. Always a joke every couple of pages otherwise what’s the point. But impressive in its ability to evoke deep empathy in the respective plights of the rapidly sketched characters. Especially given the ‘crap dialogue’ of real life. Something a newspaper review might take umbrage at. The reviewer criticised some of the sickly sentimental exchanges between lovers—but who has not said sickly sentimental words in our early thirties to a love? Repeated gestures we try and make true. Even before we’ve said them they turn false and shrill. Dialogue is not real speech but sometimes it should try. Brave to risk it. Despite the slapstick, contrived comic set ups and real dumb dialogue, why is it we still care about these characters who verge on archetypes? The punk. The environmental activist on an MFA. The wry pub sleaze. The schizophrenic who breaks down the sexes. Vón, the underachiever who could be a great writer if only he sat down and wrote this novel.
4. Perhaps it has something to do with the genuine explanatory nature of the author’s investigation into character who can’t help but see the humanity in each. If the dynamic contrasts between characters is expertly contrived, one never sees them as puppets of the plot. They evolve unpredictably. Like spinning plates.
5. That Bukowski archetype macho heroic of ‘the loser’ who wins out due to his sheer tenacity and even greater disdain for those who conform to mediocre bourgeois success. This is also part of Åh! Only Rógvu shows how the great anarchic individualist is pathetically dependent on his enemies as much as his friends and lovers. As in life, most of them will fuck you over. Eventually. If not all.
6. Thankfully, the novel doesn’t culminate in promised bliss. Thankfully, Vón does not just sober up in the end. This would be too much of a concession to the romance genre. Rógvu is redeeming here. But what if this lack of romantic resolution, that is, the inability of the protagonist to make that decisive step that will break with the past is too much of a conceit to the modern reader?
7. Charmed by the author’s refusal to grant his protagonist with the one menial job that’s a success. Instead, all jobs have their advantages and their many, many disadvantages. Particularly impressive is Rógvu’s appreciation of the difficulties and the consequent demoralisations that come from the frequent failures in an ‘idiot’s job’. Not that he is too smart for such work, nor that his co-workers possess a sentimental ‘practical’ advantage either.
8. Charmed by Vón’s rich praise for his last love interest’s young daughter. Yeah, it’s easier when they are under three and adorable and open to projection and attachment, but a major uplifting part of the novel often comes from the fun sweet things he does to entertain them. To see things from their perspective and enjoy that. It manages to make the role of stepfather actively appealing rather than something one accepts and tries to make the best of.
9. Rógvu is effective here because this otherwise dangerously saccharine family idyll had been counter-balanced by the Houellebecqian levels of cynicism his protagonist feels for his first lover’s baby niece. His first lover being a Copenhagen Business School young upwardly mobile blonde professional archetype. Vón accuses her family of treating the baby as a 'fetish'. Yes! Everything the child does is incredible. Therefore, the question arises as to whether Vón’s late embrace of being a (step-)father is a sign of his imminent dissolution as opposed to moral development.
10. The idea of a confusion of integrity in the intimate sphere paralleled by the dissolution of material means to support life in the economic sphere stretch out our protagonist on a rack of torments. Antithetical sources of his downfall. Vón is both too stubborn in his pursuits and too incontinent in his feelings. The message, not just wait around for the right lover and it’ll be sure to disappoint, rather, you’ll never be able to isolate one primary cause in real life. Not even yourself, let alone your gender. Always a swirl of errors that break apart our relations within and without. But some choices are better. A heroics which doesn’t end on a heroic note. Åh!
11. Interesting subcultural integrity of the author. A færøske punk. The novel is an investigation into how one pursues punk principles into adulthood. It would be boring and dumb for a punk not to love (limited to bourgeois erotic dilettantism); therefore, the pursuit of love should be rendered punk. That is, destructive, nihilistic, challenging bourgeois convention or purchased decorum. This is most obviously the case with the last affair which opposes a curious kind of romantic-integrity-against-conventional-ownership-cliches with a willingness to support someone else’s erotic journey to wherever it may lead. But each of the love affairs will be shown to have their specific pay offs and final redundancies. No way up.