A Tenacious and Humorous Search for Plans and Patterns: Erlend Loe’s “Naïve. Super”

I read my first Norwegian novel back in 2013: the brilliant and bestselling Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (1991) by Jostein Gaarder. Yesterday I finished Naïve. Super (1996) by Erlend Loe (born in 1969 in Trondheim) that has been translated into 20-plus languages – I enjoyed this one from start to finish as well!

Loe (@erlendloe) – who has worked in a psychiatric hospital, for theatre and film, as a teacher and a journalist – writes both adult and children’s literature. He gained popularity in Scandinavia initially for his simple and hilarious novels. His works have turned darker in tone over time, moving towards satirical criticisms of modern Norwegian society.

Naïve. Super is an extremely comic yet seriously thought-provoking existentialist-type work. I felt it carried the verve and pop of The Catcher in the Rye and sense of wonder like that found in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.


Norwegian author Erlend Loe by User “Jarvin”, CC BY 3.0, Wikipedia


Another cover
Naïve. Super (1996) by Erland Loe translated by Tor Ketil Solberg (2005, Canongate Books)

The protagonist is a 25-year-old who has quit university and moved to his brother’s apartment (who works and lives abroad – perhaps in Africa). He is confused and puzzled, actively looking for design and cohesion and purpose. He bounces a ball against the wall, he faxes his meteorologist friend Kim up north, he hangs out with a 5-year-old called Børre. He is troubled by questions like “does everything fit together?”, “will everything be fine in the end?”

In order to arrive at meaning, the guy begins making lists – of things he has (a large study loan) and hasn’t (a girlfriend), of what he knows (organisations that Norway is a member of, who directs the most unintelligent American sitcoms)…

But how does he use the information he does have? How does he get an overview, a direction? As the narrative moves, he reads and investigates a book on time and space to get to the heart of reality, he gets acquainted with a female photographer called Lise and eventually, joins his brother in New York for a trip – events that give him insights that are cute, laugh-aloud funny, deeply philosophical and also profoundly concrete…


Here are five observations:


Sometimes I envy the goldfish. Apparently, they only have a few seconds’ worth of memory span. It’s impossible for them to follow a train of thought. They experience everything for the first time. Every time. As long as they themselves aren’t aware of their handicap, life must be one long happy story. A party. Excitement from dawn to dusk.


“…life must be one long happy story. A party.” (Photo: Pixabay)



I understand that Einstein is my friend.


It somehow appears to be integrated in his theory that past, present and future exist side by side. It’s one of the con-sequences of the theory of relativity. Naturally, I don’t grasp how it’s possible, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t give a shit about how it’s possible. The point is that I feel a little more at ease after having read it. I refill my glass and continue.


It excites me enormously to read that the experts (whoever they may be) disagree about the nature of time. Some of them want there to be defined, once and for all, a kind of universal time that can function as a measure of change, while others think one should declare the concept of time null and void, as non-existent.


“It excites me enormously to read that the experts (whoever they may be) disagree about the nature of time. ” (Photo: Pixabay)



This business with space again. All the thoughts from last night haven’t exactly made me less mortal. When the universe is ephemeral, one can easily feel that human existence is meaningless. Why should I do anything at all?


On the other hand it is tempting to try and make the best of it. I’m here, anyway. The imagination won’t cope if I try to picture where I’d otherwise be.


“On the other hand it is tempting to try and make the best of it. I’m here, anyway.” (Photo: Pixabay)



Americans seem to live according to the simple theory that two is better than one, three is better than two, etc. For example, they believe two hundred dollars is better than one hundred. It’s a cute theory.




There is every reason to believe the theory which says that two is better than one also says that big is better than small and that tall is better than short. It is, in many ways, a charming thought.


“It’s a cute theory…tall is better than short.” (Photo: Pixabay)



I am thinking that I believe in cleansing the soul through fun and games.


“…through fun and games.” (Photo: Pixabay)


The next Norwegian/Scandinavian author? Perhaps it’ll be Karl Ove Knausgård – about whom I’ve been hearing a lot.



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