“There’s no point trying to tell yourself that darkness changes nothing; maybe she believes that, maybe she doesn’t, but in any case it’s wrong, because darkness happens, it fills a space, and it could also be full of something like the way a drawer is full of silverware, or the earth is full of insects that scatter in panic when you lift a rotten log, even though darkness could also be a balloon, a balloon filled with black air.”
In “Replacement” by Tor Ulven
Because of its brevity and yet countless fathoms-deep complexity coupled with what is not easy text I tend to consider “Replacement” as an example of a novel that sifts the casual reader from the committed enthusiast. In the same vein as “Heart of Darkness” by Conrad and “Wild Highway” by Bill Drummond & Mark Manning in terms of seriousness of theme in a small expertly packed parcel, but providing a rather more difficult text to engage with,“Replacement” is an significant novel on many levels.
“Replacement” carries a matching authorial mood of darkness that is perhaps the seeds of meta-fiction; you are aware that the style of the telling of the tale is intricately woven into the fabric of the tale itself. The clarity and simplicity of the authorial voices in the two books above-mentioned is not present and you, the reader, are called upon to grapple with the text as part of the experience the book is offering up. And it's a hell of a lot shorter than “Moby Dick”.
I would even go as far as to say that is one of my favourite books of all time, even though I dislike being asked to list my favourite books as I always seems to find it almost impossible to pinpoint five or ten novels that I would recommend above all others. Ulven wrote several very good books but with this one he comes closest to my heart. 'He had something to say. He said it.' This short book should be read in schools and universities , and then re-read and re-read....
I just fear that many great writers will be overlooked and, eventually, unfairly forgotten in the mists of time. Some people insist on the 21st century novels because they are supposedly related to the language they use and the world in which they live. However, literature is not only about new, new, new and modern, modern, modern, but about history, change, freedom... No one should put chains around such complex short stories, novels and novellas written with great skill and understanding. Ulven was ahead of the world and time in which he lived, and wrote, and the darkness that plagued him from within was presented and developed through a masterful narration on many levels (historical, psychological, ethical, asthetical, etc).
A haunting book. Vividly inner settings of the mind, claustrophobic, and full of non-existent-and-self-exculpating characters that Ulven clearly either pitied or despised or both. Are there really characters in this book or is just Ulven’s mind playing tricks on him? Always seems twice or thrice its length simply because of the density of the material and its slow pace - you just canNOT skim read this book!
A verdict on the darkness of the human heart. I love listening to Handel's Messiah at this time of year, which groups together the beautiful passages which speak of Light breaking into darkness, while reading this book was an absolute killer:
'The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light,
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.'