Repetition | Vigdis Hjorth | Granta


Vigdis Hjorth

Translated by Charlotte Barslund

It was late November, dark in the morning when I woke up and dark again by four in the afternoon, and if I then stepped out of the small cabin where I was, deep in the forest of Nordmarka near the capital of Norway, I wouldn’t have been able see my own hand in front of me.

I had spent a week in the cabin and had been hoping to stay there for longer in order to read, to catch up on sleep and to dream, but the University of Oslo Symphony Orchestra was giving its annual carol concert in the capital’s festival hall and I had promised a friend, who plays the viola, I’d go. Besides, I had just read that repetition is the reality and the seriousness of life, that repetition is the daily bread of everyday life, its blessing fills you up, and seeing as I had attended the orchestra’s carol concert for three years in a row, I hoped that it would indeed prove to be a blessing.

I packed my things and tidied up and when I drove down the steep hills from Ringkollen to Klekken, it started to snow. Large snowflakes twirled slowly in front of my windscreen and headlights making it hard to see and driving on the unlit, narrow, winding road demanded my full attention; soon the world would be dazzling, white and shimmering, and anything sharp and pointy would be smoothed over. It was something that happened every year at this time, it recurred and repetition is the reality and the seriousness of life. Hope is like a new garment – stiff, tight and glittering – but until you try it on, you won’t know if it fits or suits you, and memory is like an old garment: no matter how pretty it is, it no longer suits you, you have outgrown it. Repetition, however, is like a durable garment which hugs you tenderly, but never constricts or swamps you. I was glad that I hoped for nothing, but why then this feeling of dread?

It was dark again when I reached Sandvika because there had been no snowfall here as there had been on higher ground. I took the exit east to Oslo rather than west to Kristiansand and Nesøya as I usually did, joined the main road and became a part of the heavy Sunday-afternoon traffic crawling with agonising slowness towards the city centre. At long last I was able to park underneath the festival hall and I walked through windy, Sunday-empty streets towards the main entrance, past glum figures wrapped up in heavy parkas and dark scarves, bracing themselves against the icy wind. As I approached the hall, I saw several people waiting on the steps outside, the doors were not open yet so we had to wait, and waiting is challenging, especially in the cold; I wished for the time to pass quickly. We wish for time to pass quickly. We have one single life on this earth, a split-second of earthly existence in the endless expanse of time, and yet we don’t feel that it can pass quickly enough. Yes, I get it. It is hard to live your life in a way that matches that knowledge, perhaps it is impossible. I positioned myself so that no one could see my face, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath while I gave myself a reassuring talking-to, aware of the presence of my irritating, mortal fellow human beings, their breathing and the sounds they made when they moved, when they tried to keep warm by rubbing their arms, shifting their weight from one foot to another, how they moved up the steps as more people arrived, the queue compacted and closed up and it grew more crowded around the entrance, their impatience and their fears. There are no people anywhere else, only here on our little planet; there may well be plenty of intelligent life out there, but there are no people, not in any of the billions of galaxies, we are a rare and threatened species, and so wicked towards one another. I heard a metallic click, I opened my eyes and saw the heavy doors glide open before I entered as one of the first.

Vigdis Hjorth

Vigdis Hjorth is a Norwegian writer. Her most recent novel, Gjentakelsen (Repetition), was published by Cappelen Damm in August 2023. Her next title in English translation will be If Only, published in August 2024.

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Translated by Charlotte Barslund

Charlotte Barslund translates books and plays from Norway, Denmark and Greenland. Her translation of Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023. She is currently translating Zombieland by Sørine Steenholdt.

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