Synopses & Reviews
begins in a small village on a fjord in the Finnmark, on the northeastern coast of Norway, where the borders between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia lie covered in snow and darkness, where the real borders are between day and night, summer and winter, and between people. Here, a sensitive young woman like Kathrine finds few outlets for her desires. Half Norwegian, half Sami (an indigenous people), Kathrine works for the customs office inspecting the fishing boats arriving regularly in the harbor. She is in her late 20s, has a son from an early marriage, and has drifted into a second loveless marriage to a man whose cold and dominating conventionality forms a bold stroke through the unformed landscape of her life. After she makes a discovery about her husband that deeply wounds her, Kathrine cuts loose from her moorings and her confusion and sets off in search of herself.
Her journey begins aboard a ship headed south, taking her below the Arctic Circle for the first time in her life. Kathrine makes her way to France and has the bittersweet experience of a love affair that flares and dies quickly, her starved senses rewarded by the shimmering beauty of Paris. Through a series of poignant encounters, Kathrine is led to the richer life she was meant to have and is brave enough to claim.
Using simple words strung together in a melodic alphabet, Peter Stamm introduces us, through a series of intimate sketches, to the heart of an unforgettable woman. Her story speaks eloquently about solitude, the fragility of love, lost illusions, and self-discovery.
"Swiss author Peter Stamm's sensitive and unnerving novel is...a rare success. Taking place in a small port village in northeastern Norway, Unformed Landscape...is the story of a young Norwegian woman's first journey below the Arctic Circle. Though its setting could not be more different from anything most American readers have ever experienced firsthand, it is an uncommonly intimate work, one that will remind the reader of his or her own lived experience with a greater intensity than many of the books that are published right here at home." Harold Braswell, the New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Set in a small village on a Gord in fjord in Norway, this is book about solitude, the fragility of love, the pain of existence, and lost illusions.
About the Author
is the author of the novels Seven Years
, On a Day Like This
, and Unformed Landscape
, and the short-story collections We’re Flying
and In Strange Gardens and Other Stories
. His prize-winning books have been translated into more than thirty languages. For his entire body of work and his accomplishments in fiction, he was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013, and in 2014 he won the prestigious Friedrich Hölderlin Prize. He lives in Switzerland.
Michael Hofmann has translated the work of Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Peter Stephan Jungk, and many others. He is the author of several books of poems and a book of essays, Behind the Lines, and is the editor of the anthology Twentieth-Century German Poetry. In 2012 he was awarded the Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Florida and London.
Reading Group Guide
1. Katherine already has one failed marriage behind her when she accepts Thomas marriage proposal, despite the fact that she does not love him. Why does she agree to marry him? Why does Katherine seem to fall into marriage without giving it much thought?
2. What role does the setting of isolated, coastal Finnmark play in Katherines identity and heritage?
3. Stamm introduces a motif of technology, such as the internet homepage that Christian shows Katherine and Katherines incessant email checks. Can technology fill a void of isolation or does it just widen the gap between two people?
4. Compare and contrast Helge, Thomas, Christian and Morten. What attracts Katherine to each of them?
5. Katherines second husband Thomas lives in a fictive world where he fabricates stories of grand achievement. When Katherine finds him sitting alone in his familys hut after claiming he was on his nightly jog, she wishes he had been cheating on her instead. What do you think of her reaction? Why do you think Thomas is unable to communicate with his wife?
6. Why does Katherine force a physical relationship with Christian? Does she seek comfort out of necessity or true affection? Did you expect such careless treatment from him?
7. Maternal love does not come naturally to Katherine. What was your reaction to Katherines revelation that she views Randy in the irredeemable image of his incapable father Helge? What accounts for Katherines shift in her view of Randy upon her return from the Norwegian ski trip?
8. Examine Katherines ski trip to Norway with her new friends. Why do you think Linn takes an interest in Katherine? What does Stamm show the reader about the nature of female friendship?
9. What does the title Unformed Landscape refer to? What would you re-name the second chapter of Katherines life after reading the ending?
10. Social clashing exists with the juxtaposition of Katherines family and Thomass family. Discuss the scenes in which the two families collide, culminating with Randys birthday party.
11. In what ways does the sea becomes a character of its own, providing both sorrow and connection in Katherines life?
12. Stamm style is a fluid, sparse progressions of words. For instance, the narrator states, “Katherine had married Helge, she had had a child, she had divorced Helge.” What effect does this diction have on the overall story? What does the language reflect?