What is the story of your marriage

Wailing middle-aged men

In “The Story of a Marriage”, Geir Gulliksen relentlessly tells of the failure of interpersonal relationships

From Sascha Seiler

Discussed books / references

If one reads the novels by Karl Ove Knausgård, Tomas Espedal or Per Petterson, one might assume that Norwegian literature has become an epic form of literature in recent years confessional poetry developed, in which middle-aged men in particular complain in autobiographical novels about the failure of their marriages or romantic relationships. Indeed, this type of man seems to be found in abundance in the cities of Bergen and Oslo; maybe that's nothing special at all. What is special, however, is that so many authors turn this relentless self-analysis into literature that - and this is perhaps the most surprising - turns male self-pity into great art.

Geir Gulliksen also reports in his new novel Story of a marriage from the failure of the same. The editor and publisher Gulliksen is the discoverer and close friend of Karl Ove Knausgård and has already published poems, plays and prose in Norway. As part of the Frankfurt Book Fair and its host country Norway, it is now published Story of a marriage in German translation, and just for the opportunity to read this Norwegian novel (and many others) in this country now, one must be eternally grateful to this institution and its literary mediator function. Because Story of a marriage is an extremely moving portrait of a man whose marriage is slowly falling apart. In a painful way, Gulliksen describes the disintegration that occurs as if by accident: the wife gets to know another man by chance, makes friends with him, a jogging acquaintance, begins to trust him, until it finally becomes intimacy and ultimately also an apparent one Love is coming The shocking part of this unspectacular story, however, is the behavior of the husband, who tells the story from his perspective. As a reader you feel repelled by him on the one hand, on the other hand you develop an almost shameful pity for this increasingly miserable figure, who reveals himself relentlessly.

First of all, the appearance of this new man gives the narrator a sexual kick; he would like his wife to report during intercourse what she would do with the other if he were there. The woman reluctantly gives in to this perversion, whereas the narrator gets more and more into the imagination and encourages the woman, who begins to develop feelings for her, admittedly quite intrusive, running partner to do it anyway in person to try it out with him. So their later reports could be more realistic and therefore more exciting for him.

But the reader increasingly doubts the credibility of the narrator, who portrays an increasingly helpless figure: Does he perhaps just want to protect himself from the break he feared by placing the sexual level at the center? Is it an ultimately desperate attempt to keep control of the narrative of your marriage? The reader remains in conflict to the last, and when the catastrophe comes, it hits the narrator with full force and robs him of the last bit of his dignity.

Story of a marriage is an uncompromising novel because all the characters are selfish and highly unsympathetic: the sleazy narrator, the clumsy and self-centered wife, the reckless family man who wants to lay the attractive runner-up and fool her into having a great love. Whether this novel is autobiographical or not is of little relevance, because it reads like a thriller anyway.

A contribution from the comparative literature department of the University of Mainz