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Azornoby Inger Christensen
Danish poet and novelist Inger Christensen was widely considered a strong contender for the Nobel Prize before her death at age 73 in January of 2009. Azorno was written in the late 1960s, but has only now, some four decades later, found its way into English translation. Perhaps best described as a metafictional work, Azorno is a labyrinthine novel where the line between author, narrator, and character blurs quite easily. The reader is never quite certain whether the reality as presented on the page is part of the novel penned by one of the characters or by the author herself. Recollections of events are portrayed from slightly varied perspectives, leaving the reader to ponder whether the characters are mistaken in their memories, the narrator confused, or whether Christensen herself is the one obfuscating. The use of repetitive language and observation is powerfully wielded, allowing a sense of foreboding to languish throughout the book. Reality and the perception of reality coalesce in a way that leaves the reader enchanted, wanting as much as the characters (or is it the narrator? or Christensen?) to understand who's who. The effects of this slim work are dizzying, but its charm lies in the fact that the reader, character, narrator, and even the author are all at the same disadvantage to understand what is real and what is fiction. Azorno is a unique, carefully crafted novella that is as challenging as it is delightful.
"In several instances, the women seem trapped....One sits in a dark room where outside it perpetually rains. Another is locked away in an institution....Others move, like Beckettian figures, "in" and "out" in seeming freedom, but with nowhere to go, they wander the streets, sit at tables to drink, or cross the various Alpine passes by car....We soon realize that these figures are all, in some way, creations of the artist Azorno....each is indeed made pregnant by the author, and each rearranges these series of events, like the ever-recurring image of a bouquet of various-colored tulips that is described in many scenes." Douglas Messerli, Rain Taxi (Read the entire Rain Taxi review)
Synopses & Reviews
One of the men is a writer named Sampel, the other is the main character of his novel, Azorno. All the women are pregnant by Sampel, but which of them is really the narrator? Has someone been killed? Is someone insane? Is the whole story part of Sampel's book, or Inger Christensen's?
Reminiscent of the works of Georges Perec and Alain Robbe-Grillet, Azorno illuminates the prevailing theme throughout Inger Christensen's great body of poetry and fiction: the interplay of perception, language, and reality. As Anne Carson said, Like Hesiod, Inger Christensen wants to give us an account of what is — of everything that is and how it is and what we are in the midst of.
Ending with the struggle between two merged characters, Azorno simultaneously satisfies and unsettles, leaving us with a view of reality unlike any other.
"[Christensen] manages to make wit, passion and questioning and astonishing design serve each others ends as one, and she does it in a way that is utterly her own." W. S. Merwin
"Inger Christensen inspires awe in supple figures of bodily experience, and of social and sexual interaction." The Believer
Set in modern Europe, Azorno is a kind of logic puzzle or house of mirrors, concerning five women and two men.
About the Author
Inger Christensen (1935- 2009), whose work is a cornerstone of modern Scandinavian poetry, was the recipient of many international awards, among them the Nordic Authors' Prize, bestowed by the Swedish Academy and known as the "Little Nobel." Her books include the masterpiece it; alphabet; Butterfly Valley; and Light, Grass, and Letter in April.
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